SUNRISE - The Canadiens will be deprived of defenseman Shea Weber's services for the next two games - Monday night in South Florida and Wednesday night in Buffalo.
Head coach Claude Julien confirmed the news following Monday's morning skate at the BB&T Center in Sunrise ahead of the matchup with the Panthers.
Weber, who is out with a lower-body injury, is also returning to Montreal for precautionary reasons, according to the Canadiens' bench boss.
"I'm a coach, not a doctor. I've been told that we're sending him back to Montreal as a precaution," said Julien. "Just like we've done over the last couple of weeks, we're making decisions based on the situations we're being forced to deal with. Things aren't urgent right now, so we're just taking precautions."
Video: Claude Julien on Charlie Lindgren and Shea Weber
Nikita Nesterov returns to the Canadiens' lineup with Weber on the shelf. Monday night will mark the first time that the Russian rearguard sees game action since February 27. He was a healthy scratch for the last three games. Nesterov will be paired with Brandon Davidson.
Meanwhile, Julien will also be going with Charlie Lindgren between the pipes against Florida, marking his first outing with the big club since April 7, 2016 when the Canadiens bested the Hurricanes 4-2 in Carolina.
The 23-year-old netminder was recalled last week from the AHL's St. John's IceCaps where he's enjoyed a stellar first full season in the pros. The Minnesota native boasts a 22-17-1 record, along with a 2.62 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage in 45 appearances with Sylvain Lefebvre's squad so far this year.
"I'm hoping to see all the good things I've been told about him," said Julien. "He's been playing well in St. John's. I'm looking forward to watching him. His competitiveness is one of his strengths. He never gives up."
For his part, Al Montoya re-joined his teammates in South Florida and hit the ice with the rest of the group on Monday. He continues to rehab from the lower-body injury that forced him to miss his scheduled start last Tuesday night against the Dallas Stars.
Forward Steve Ott returns to the lineup after missing Saturday night's game in Tampa as a healthy scratch in favor of Michael McCarron. He'll play on a line with Dwight King and Andreas Martinsen.
Defenseman Jordie Benn continues to make progress in his rehab efforts, but he remains day-to-day. Benn will miss his third straight game on Monday night.
Clinching top spot
There are several ways the Canadiens could lock up top spot in the Atlantic Division on Monday night, the simplest of which is to down the Panthers in their own barn and pick up their fifth straight win. That would seal the deal immediately.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the Canadiens aren't just content with a division crown, though. After all, there's still a lot more to focus on going forward.
"We've been pretty good here keeping our mindset needs to be. Just taking things one game at a time, and not worrying about everything that's going on around us," said Brendan Gallagher. "Things can get pretty crazy this time of year, but we've been pretty focused. I think that's been the strength of our group here as of late. We have to continue it here. We're playing a team that we recently beat, so they're going to want to get back at us. It's important for us to show up."
Video: Brendan Gallagher on resting players right now