BROSSARD – It looks like the Canadiens could have Paul Byron back in the lineup at some point during their upcoming three-game road trip.
Byron, who has missed the last eight games with a lower-body injury, was one of four players who took part in an optional skate at the Bell Sports Complex on Wednesday afternoon under the watchful eyes of assistant coach Clement Jodoin and goaltending guru Stephane Waite. It marked the first time that he’d skated alongside teammates since his rehab work began.
Following the on-ice session, the 26-year-old Ottawa native confirmed that he’ll practice with the rest of the team on Thursday morning before they travel to Buffalo for Friday night’s tilt against the Sabres.
“I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to play, but right now it’s just day by day. I’m getting better on the ice, so the decision will really come down on Friday,” said Byron, who is cautiously optimistic about returning to active duty against Dan Bylsma’s squad at the First Niagara Center. “I felt really good out there today. I’m feeling confident. I’m getting better every day.”
Byron had been enjoying a strong campaign before going down back on Jan. 19 in a tilt against the Boston Bruins. He’d put up a career-high eight goals – three of which came in short-handed situations – in 35 games with the CH, and was also a mainstay on the penalty kill prior to being sidelined.
“I’m disappointed that it happened. I wanted to play every game this year,” said Byron, who prefers to look at the injury as somewhat of a blessing in disguise rather than really let it get him down. “The good thing about it is that I got a lot of rest. We’ve got a lot of back-to-back games coming up in the last three weeks, so I’ll have fresh legs. When I’m ready to play, I hope I can help the team.”
That being said, it hasn’t been easy for Byron to watch his teammates battle it out from afar as of late.
“Most of the injured guys are down there in the training room or the lounge watching our games. For us, it’s very hard watching our teammates out playing,” explained Byron, who was claimed off waivers by the Canadiens from the Calgary Flames in early October. “We’re all pretty competitive guys. You see a call or a hook, and you’re kind of yelling at the TV just like you’re playing.”
Byron’s fire and intensity will be a welcome addition to the group when he finally gets the green light to suit up. It will surely come in handy as the Canadiens try to climb back into the playoff race following a lacklustre two-month stretch that saw them struggle to put up numbers in the win column. The five-year NHL veteran, however, couldn’t be more impressed by the way in which his teammates have turned things around over the course of the last three contests.
“I think everybody in this dressing room is confident. Everybody is playing well. Everybody is playing strong. We knew it was just a matter of time for us,” said Byron, who is averaging just over 13 minutes of ice time per game this season. “I hope everybody keeps working. We have a lot of games left and we have to keep playing well.”
For his part, fellow penalty-killing specialist Lars Eller is eager to see Byron’s return on the horizon.
“When he’s healthy, he’s going to make our team better,” praised Eller. “I think he’s been playing great since he came here. He’s going to add some speed, some offense and some grit. He’s a good player.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
The Numbers Game: February 9, 2016
IceCaps report – Feb. 9