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Rare combo

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

DENVER – Michel Therrien will be breaking out a rare line combination in Denver on Wednesday night.

Since arriving in a trade for Jaroslav Halak along with Ian Schultz in the summer of 2010, Lars Eller has played with 31 different linemates in Montreal, including nine in 2015-16 alone. He’s shifted from center to wing and back to center again. He’s been shuttled from getting top line minutes to hitting the ice as a third-line checker.

Now, with David Desharnais out with a lower body injury suffered on Monday in Arizona, the 6-foot-2 forward will get a chance to line up alongside Max Pacioretty against Colorado, marking the duo’s first appearance together on a line since they were flanked by Erik Cole for a brief stint in 2011-12.

“Playing with Lars is different. I haven’t played with Lars probably in my whole career, but he brings a lot of good things to the line,” shared Pacioretty, who also played 32 shorthanded minutes alongside the Danish pivot during the 2013-14 campaign. “He’s a big, strong, powerful player and if he’s creating time and space and battling hard like he always does, he makes his linemates better. Hopefully we can jump in and play some good hockey together.”

More recently asked to fill a shutdown role, anchoring the third line and eating up major shorthanded minutes, Eller is happy to have occasion to showcase his offensive chops in Denver – although he isn’t planning on allowing goals for to come at the expense of goals against.

“For me it’s the same no matter who I play with. I want to play offense when we have the puck and try to get it back as fast as possible when we don’t have it and take pride in playing good defense. The more we do that, the more offense we can create,” confirmed the 26-year-old center, who is third among all Habs forward in shorthanded ice time this season. “I don’t know why the combination hasn’t come up before, but hopefully it can spark something. Some of the drills we had together in practice today felt pretty good so hopefully we can build on that tomorrow.”

He may not have much experience lining up alongside his captain at even strength, but Eller has already had an opportunity to establish chemistry with his right winger this year, having spent 11 games alongside Andrighetto.

“It’ll be the first time [playing with Max] in I can’t remember when, but I’m familiar with playing with Sven. I think with a player like Max, it’s just about getting him the puck in the right areas and helping him finish plays,” said Eller, who has nine goals and 17 points in 57 games so far in 2015-16. “It’s going to be me and Sven’s jobs to get him the puck in the right areas inside the blue line. I think we have all the assets on this line to make it successful, we just need to gel. We have to work together to make it work.”

Coming off a lackluster performance in Arizona that saw the Habs drop a 6-2 decision in the desert, Therrien didn’t give his new trios much chance to work on break outs and zone entries on Tuesday afternoon, instead opting to replace his usual X’s and O’s with a more old school approach to practice planning.

“I won’t call it a wake-up call, but I guess you can call it a punishment. And it was well-deserved. I guarantee everybody felt their legs out there today,” admitted Eller of the hour-long practice that began with goal line-to-goal line skating and ended with full ice one-on-one and two-on-two battles.

“We all have to find ways to build ourselves up individually and collectively,” he added. “You have to find all the motivation you can – whatever it is inside yourself to get you going. For some guys, maybe it’s more opportunities and ice time; for some maybe it’s contracts. It can be anything. Whatever makes you play your best hockey right now, we have to do it together. It’s just a matter at this point of coming out with the right attitude from the start of the game and being focused. We really have to stick together as a team now.”

Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.

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