BROSSARD – For the Canadiens, the countdown to the start of the 2013-14 regular season is nearing its end.
The squad convened at the Bell Sports Complex on Monday morning for the second-to-last time ahead of their season-opening matchup against the Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre. Before kicking off the year on Tuesday night, several Habs regulars spoke about their expectations for the season.
Left winger Rene Bourque, who will likely suit up alongside Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta on the Habs’ top line on opening night, sees his trio as a force to be reckoned with at both ends of the rink.
“Our first responsibility is probably to shut down the opposing team’s top line,” acknowledged Bourque. “Still, we will get our fair share on the power play. We’ll probably play a lot of minutes together as a line, and we’ll have chances to drive some offence as well.”
Tipping the scale at a healthy 213 pounds, the stocky forward has focused on honing his skating during the offseason. The additional time on the ice could help Bourque recapture the offensive form which allowed him to post back-to-back 27-goal seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
“Everybody worked hard in the gym during the offseason to get their legs stronger for a more explosive stride. A guy like Max Pacioretty is probably among the top players in the league in terms of being able to explode off the first couple of steps. My foot speed is something I work on in the offseason, and it helps when it comes to foot races and getting to more loose pucks,” offered the Lac La Biche, AB native.
A physical presence for the Habs throughout preseason, Bourque is happy about the team’s mix of skill and toughness on the eve of the new campaign.
“[At times last year] we were getting pushed around. [Brandon] Prust and [Travis] Moen, they’re big guys, but not the heavyweights that can go up against the other teams’ fighters [like George Parros can]. Now, it’s nice to have a few new players with a big presence like Jarred Tinordi, who’s really tough to play against. It really increases the team’s overall confidence and takes a lot of pressure off guys like Prust,” noted Bourque.
For his linemate Brian Gionta, the key to the Canadiens’ success extends beyond just having speed and strength, but in being able to maintain a high standard of play throughout the season.
“Playing well for long stretches will be the main challenge for all teams. The season is 82 games long and you have to find a way to play with consistency, to be competitive and to give yourself a chance to win every time,” stated the Habs captain. “This team has the desire and talent to get [to the postseason]. We just need to play to our abilities day-in, day-out.”
Fittingly, the team’s first test will come against its eternal rivals. While Gionta and Bourque will be counted on to make plays at both ends of the rink, the fourth line, paced by Brandon Prust, will look to make their mark on the match should things get chippy.
“We have a good group and we know each other well now, and we want to get off the starting blocks as fast as possible. Our fourth line is very solid on the ice, and even more so with our gloves off,” said Prust, who skated alongside Moen and Parros during the morning practice.
“[Toronto] will be a good test. They’ll play hard, they want to win and they will be looking to prove themselves. It’ll be a good game,” confirmed Prust.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
In high spirits
Opening Night presented by Bell