BUFFALO -- Following three long weeks of tweaks and preparations, the 2017-18 Canadiens season is finally here.
The Habs hit the ice for a first game day skate of the new campaign on Thursday morning in Buffalo, and were notably joined at practice by injured defenseman David Schlemko.
Claude Julien confirmed however that although things are trending in the right direction for the 30-year-old rearguard, the team still does not have a concrete timeline for his return.
Like Schlemko however, healthy Habs Torrey Mitchell, Brandon Davidson, and Joe Morrow are likewise expected to be out of the lineup on Thursday, albeit as the night's scratches.
LINES AT PRACTICE: October 5 @ BUF
Young guns Charles Hudon, Jacob De La Rose, and Victor Mete, meanwhile, look all-set to crack the opening night roster opposite the Sabres.
In Mete's case, the opportunity will also mark his official NHL debut.
"He's been working hard all camp, and now we want him to take that into the regular season," explained the Habs bench boss. "If we didn't have confidence in him, and were to panic [when he's on the ice at the same time as Jack Eichel], then he wouldn't be here. He faced some big names during preseason, and was able to get the job done. It might not be the matchup we're aiming for, but it's going to happen. As long as he continues to carry himself well, and makes his changes at the right times, things will work out."
Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference
For Mete himself, part of the challenge will be keeping his emotions in check as he takes just the latest step in what has turned out to be a dream autumn for the 19-year-old.
"I can't afford to be too excited, because then I'll get nervous, but I can't not be excited either, because then I won't play the way I want to," underlined the Woodbridge, ON native, who will have friends and family in attendance at the KeyBank Center. "I'll just try to stay humble and see how I do here. I don't want to get too high or too low."
At the very least, he's sure to be well-rested, which wasn't exactly a gimme for a teenager about to make his big-league debut.
"I actually slept all night. I needed a good night's sleep for today, so I slept well."
Start strong, but finish stronger
The Canadiens are coming off a pair of hot starts to a season in 2015-16 and 2016-17, going 9-1-0 and 9-0-1, respectively, in the first 10 games of the previous two campaigns.
Still, the Habs are tempering expectations when it comes to a potential third early-season streak, emphasizing instead the importance of peaking at the right moment -- just like the club did during preseason.
"It's important, but two years ago our season would disagree," stressed captain Max Pacioretty, recalling that the team failed to quality for the playoffs despite rushing out of the gates in 2015-16. "You have to play every game like it's your last, and know that all these points are valuable as they add up towards the end of the year. But at the same time, you want to get better as the year goes on, and not worry about the standings, or things we can't control. We just have to worry about going out there and playing the right way, then hopefully the results will take care of themselves."
Video: Max Pacioretty on opening the season in Buffalo
One thing that won't change is that feeling the players get every year before the puck drops for the first of 82-plus times.
"It's an exciting time of year -- even just going out to dinner last night, guys were checking the scores of games around the league," added Pacioretty, who has converted that excitement into points in three consecutive season openers. "It's crazy that it's already starting again, and Game 1 is always exciting across the league. I'm just happy to be playing again."
Game time is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, and will be broadcast on TSN2 and RDS in Canada.