MONTREAL - Shea Weber's return in late November was clearly felt by the Canadiens' defense corps.
But Weber's season really began back on October 1, when he was named the 30th captain in club history.
Weber may be a man of few words, but it's clear he was still honored by the selection.
"It really is an honor. I don't know if you can put it into words. It's an honor, I don't know how many times you can say that. You look at the guys in our dressing room, guys who have worn this letter in this organization's history. It's special," Weber said on the day his captaincy was announced. "I was excited and elated to be with this group of guys and help lead them back to success."
The recognition went a long way for Weber, who was coming off a difficult, injury-shortened 2017-18 campaign. The 14-year veteran underwent surgery to repair a damaged tendon in his left foot during that season as well as arthroscopic surgery to fix a torn meniscus in the offseason. In all, Weber didn't play a single game of hockey for 346 days.
The Sicamous, BC native admitted it was a challenging period for him and his family.
"There were a lot of ups and downs. It's been frustrating, it's been hard, it's been grueling, but we're here. I'm excited right now to get going," Weber explained right before making his return. "Sitting and waiting. If it happened during the summer that'd be different, but watching the guys going to battle every night for 24 games and not being able to help them was tough."
Weber finally played his first game as captain of the Canadiens on November 27 against the Carolina Hurricanes. His comeback was largely good news for the Canadiens' backend, especially on the penalty kill.
In the 24 games without Weber, the Habs allowed 19 shorthanded goals for a 79% penalty kill. With the veteran back in the lineup, Montreal allowed just 29 shorthanded goals in 58 games, upping their P.K. effectiveness to 81.9%.
Video: NYR@MTL: Weber unloads one-timer past Georgiev
According to the head coach, the captain's return allowed several of his players to move back into a more comfortable role.
"It certainly alleviates the pressure on several players, because it has a domino effect. Shea is our number-one defenseman," mentioned Claude Julien ahead of Weber's first game back. "It means less responsibility for some. That also allows us to put other guys in a better position to succeed."
Montreal's team stats also showed signs of improvement with Weber back in the lineup. Before his return, the Canadiens' goal differential (goals for:goals against) stood at minus-7, but shot up to plus-17 in the 58 games with the captain on the ice.
Video: NYI@MTL: Weber hammers slap shot past Greiss
Weber's impact on the team's on-ice performance is simply priceless, say his teammates.
"He brings with him a winning attitude. He creates the culture within the group. He's won at different levels, and he knows what it takes. He's a competitive guy. He's one of the best players in our game for a reason," outlined alternate captain Brendan Gallagher as Weber's return approached. "He's managed to have an impact on our team off the ice all season. Now that he's back in the lineup, we'll be able to see his impact on the ice and it's for sure going to be a big energy boost for us."
Weber finished the 2018-19 season with 14 goals and 33 points in 58 games. He scored his 200th career goal on March 8, making him the only active defenseman in the NHL defenseman to reach the mark. Weber is also just one goal away from his 100th power play marker.
Video: MTL@ANA: Weber blasts home 200th NHL goal
With his injury woes seemingly behind him, the blue-liner is now looking to focus on his summer training regimen so that he can come back even stronger in the fall.
"It's going to be huge. This will be more comfortable for my training schedule and my preparation for the season. It was a quick turnaround for me [this year]; I'm used to having a lot more time and was forced to do it," explained Weber at the team's end-of-season media op. "I still think that the training staff and medical staff did a great job in helping me get ready to get back as quickly as possible, but there's nothing like having that full offseason to get yourself prepared."
Video: Shea Weber on the team's attitude