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PIT@MTL: Debut for Scandella, new digits for Kulak

Montreal native set to play his first game as a Hab while Ilya Kovalchuk arrives in town

by Dan Braverman @CanadiensMTL /

BROSSARD - It's been a busy few days for the Canadiens, who dealt away Mike Reilly before acquiring defenseman Marco Scandella and signing forward Ilya Kovalchuk.

The newest Canadiens rearguard says he's been running on little sleep since finding out he'd be heading home, and can't wait to get going at the Bell Centre.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Can't fake that smile. #GoHabsGo

"It's huge. I'm really excited. My first game in Montreal, for the Montreal Canadiens. I've played for other teams here, but it's something really special," shared Scandella, who will patrol the blue line alongside rookie Cale Fleury against the Pittsburgh Penguins. "It's an honor and I'm happy."

Video: Marco Scandella on his first game as a Hab

Claude Julien pointed out that there were many reasons why acquiring the 29-year-old made perfect sense for the Habs.

"A local guy, who's in the last year of his contract, and he's excited to be here," outlined the coach. "All those things, I think it's good for him and it's good for us."

Biographical details aside, Julien also noted that Scandella should be able to help shore things up defensively on the back end.

"That's one of the reasons we went out and got him. I think offensively, our defensemen are doing a good job to support the attack and score goals. In terms of total points among our defensemen, we rank among the highest in the League. But when you look at some of the struggles we've had lately, I think we could improve a bit defensively," Julien said of Scandella, who posted a plus-9 differential in 31 games with the Buffalo Sabres this season. "That's one of Marco's strengths: he can play well defensively."

If Scandella is excited to be joining his new squad, the same can be said for his new teammates, who were encouraged by the show of support by Marc Bergevin in bringing in some help.

"It's always good when you see reinforcements. These guys compete very hard. At the end of the day, last game, we came out without a point even though we maybe deserved two, so there's some frustration," the Habs bench boss recounted of his team's 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. "But when you see your general manager trying to help the team by making some changes, a bit of help here and there, it's for sure encouraging."

Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference

Scandella was one part of those aforementioned reinforcements, Kovalchuk being the other piece. The Russian forward won't take part in Saturday's game against the Penguins, but he did arrive in Montreal and has been orienting himself and meeting with team personnel.

When asked if a particular facet of Kovalchuk's game stood out in his memory, Julien pointed to his work with the man advantage.

"When he was in Atlanta, he was dominant. I remember on the power play, one of the things was kind of like what teams do with Weber: take away his shooting, because he could definitely rifle that puck, and he's still a good shooter," praised Julien of Kovalchuk, who boasts 143 career power play goals on his NHL resume. "He's not the young player that he was, but he can still shoot a puck, the same way he did when he first came into the League."

That kind of skill and talent might have some of Kovalchuk's fellow Habs seeing double - especially the younger ones.

"Maybe I'll be a little star struck. He's sitting over there, I'm just looking at him," explained rookie Nick Suzuki, pointing to Kovalchuk's new stall located directly across the room from his. "But I'm kind of used to playing against some of the stars in the League now, so it shouldn't be too bad."

Video: Nick Suzuki on the arrival of Ilya Kovalchuk

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The Habs held an optional morning skate on Saturday, and defenseman Brett Kulak was sporting a new number for the occasion: 77. He made the switch so that Kovalchuk could don his trademark No. 17 with the Habs.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Brett Kulak, #������7������7������.#GoHabsGo

Kovalchuk is set to meet the Montreal media for the first time at 5:15 p.m. at the Bell Centre.

Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. For tickets to the game, click here.

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