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Peca: 'I just wanted to gain the coach's respect back'

Matthew Peca is among a group of players battling for a roster spot on the Canadiens' fourth line, and his audition continues tonight

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

BROSSARD - There's a real battle being waged for roster spots on the Canadiens' fourth line, and Matthew Peca is working extra hard to be one of the last men standing.

The 26-year-old forward will have another opportunity to prove his worth on Monday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, playing alongside Jake Evans and Riley Barber.

It will mark his third outing of the preseason.

Make no mistake about it, Peca is relishing the ongoing competition for jobs with Claude Julien's contingent.

"It brings out the best in guys. You watch guys having good games, young guys coming up having great games, and it just forces you to be ready to go," affirmed Peca, who has one goal and two points thus far. "You don't take anything for granted, take everything seriously, and go out there and do your best."

Video: FLA@MTL: Peca, Belzile link up to open scoring

After suiting up for just 39 games last season, the Quinnipiac University product headed into the summer with a good idea of where he needed to switch things up.

Admittedly, Peca needed to work on his mindset in addition to his overall game.

"I wish I would've adjusted a bit better to it last year. You come in prepared for one role, and then you're put in another situation. This year coming in, I just wanted to gain the coach's respect back and gain the staff's trust back to be able to put me out against guys, be hard to play against in the D zone, and create energy," insisted the three-year NHL veteran. "Possession is huge. We didn't do a good enough job of puck possession as a fourth line last year, so those are all little things I worked on."

And he's committed to being a more physical presence on the ice during the upcoming campaign as well.

"That goes with the relentless part, you need to be a line that guys don't want to play against. You want to be in everyone's face," said Peca. "That's just the style of game we play also. The speed we have, the guys that are fighting for those last three spots, there's no reason why they can't be effective."

But in a fight for employment with the big club that could potentially come down to the wire, the Petawawa, ON native believes being a good teammate can certainly help his cause, too.

"You have to play as a team. You have to play within the system. You have a role, and you have to play it," added Peca, who registered three goals and 10 points with the Canadiens last season. "Sometimes, there are guys who aren't happy because they feel they can play a bigger role on the second or third line, but you aren't going to do that during the year. You have to stress that you have a job to do, and you have to do it the best you can."

Happy Cale

Like Peca, youngster Cale Fleury finds himself in the midst of a battle on the back end.

But the 20-year-old defenseman has responded to the challenge with poise, surviving the first major round of cuts that could have seen him reassigned to the AHL's Laval Rocket over the weekend.

"I want to be here as long as I can," stressed Fleury, ahead of his fourth preseason outing on Monday night. "If I end up getting sent down, I know I'm in a good situation with the coaching staff and just how everything is run there, too. I think I'll be in a good situation either way, but I prefer to be here."

After getting a taste of the pro game last season in Laval, the Calgary native felt that he had the right stuff to make the jump to the NHL ranks.

"In my head, I did. I knew I had to have a really hard offseason, work hard, and show well at camp - and I think I have so far," said Fleury. "My mindset is just to do everything I can to make a good impression and stay here as long as possible."

But his performance against the Maple Leafs, in addition to any further preseason appearances he makes, will obviously be critical in determining his immediate future.

"It's been coming up pretty quick. It's kind of been a blur the last couple of weeks," mentioned Fleury. "It's been a lot of hockey and a lot of skating, so I think the next couple of days should be some big days for us."

Alzner debuts, Byron healing

After recovering from a groin injury, defenseman Karl Alzner will be suiting up for the first time during the preseason.

For his part, Julien is eager to see the 30-year-old at work.

"He deserves a chance like everyone else. We want to see him because he's a guy who worked hard in the summer to adjust to different things. He worked on his weight and his speed to adjust to the way the game is played today," praised Julien. "We'll evaluate him like everyone else. At the same time, you always need depth. In the end, we'll decide who deserves to be here and who the depth players will be."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: 💬 "Pauly's in great shape. Maybe we see him Saturday."Claude Julien gives an update on Paul Byron's injury. #GoHabsGo

As for the status of Paul Byron, who sustained an upper-body injury against the Florida Panthers last Thursday, Julien indicated that the speedy forward is doing just fine.

"He's recovering well. His injury was one where it looks like it was just a three or four-day injury. He could easily be playing in a day or two if we wanted to, but in training camp it's better to be cautious then sorry," revealed Julien. "Pauly's in great shape. Maybe we see him Saturday [at home against the Ottawa Senators]. We'll see as we move on here."

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