CALGARY - In Wednesday's practice notebook, the Canadiens start practice off with a fun activity, Paul Byron talks about returning to Calgary, and status updates on a few injured soldiers.
PRACTICE FUN: Before getting down to work on Wednesday afternoon at the Scotiabank Saddledome in preparation for the Flames, head coach Claude Julien kicked things off by having his troops swap sticks and scrimmage with wrong-handed blades.
It might not sound too hard, but according to captain Max Pacioretty, it actually is.
"It's really tough. I think it's actually pretty good, I guess, to work the other side of the muscle chain. It just felt so weird and you got tired so quickly skating with a different hand stick in your hands," said Pacioretty, who leads the Canadiens with 31 goals on the year, which has him tied for third in the NHL alongside Maple Leafs rookie sensation Auston Matthews. "It's not something you would think is the case. It was a lot of fun, trying to keep the mood light."
Alex Galchenyuk confirmed the high degree of difficulty involved in the game.
"I had [Brendan Gallagher's] stick and I was struggling. He apparently got two goals with my stick. He felt really comfortable, but I couldn't do much," said Galchenyuk. "It was a fun thing to do. I'm happy I have my stick back on my side."
Julien said that his players earned the opportunity to have some fun after rattling off six straight wins dating back to February 25, but stressed the importance of maintaining their collective focus at the same time, especially with a contest against a club riding a seven-game winning streak on the horizon on Thursday.
"We want to have a good time, but we also need to focus on what we need to," said Julien. "It's important to find a balance between the two. With the way we've been playing lately and the way we've been competing, we deserve to have a little bit of fun and start practice off like that."
Video: Alex Galchenyuk on having fun at practice
BACK IN TOWN: Paul Byron played 130 regular-season games for the Calgary Flames before being claimed off waivers by the Canadiens on October 6, 2015, so Cowtown really does hold an important place in the speedy left-winger's heart.
"I enjoyed my time here in Calgary. I loved it. I still have family here. It's a little weird being on the other end of the building and coming in through the other side and being in this room, but it's definitely a special place," shared Byron, who put up 16 goals and 46 points while sporting a Flames uniform during his four seasons with the organization. "[I have] a lot of good memories. The year we made the playoffs [in 2014-15] there was special, and I cherished all of my time here."
Video: Paul Byron on his return to Calgary
While being waived by the Flames certainly was a tough pill to swallow, it ultimately turned out for the best for the now 27-year-old father of two, who continues to make his mark in Montreal. With career highs this season in goals (16), assists (15) and points (31), and a knack for coming up clutch, Byron is a shining example of turning a negative into a positive through hard work and determination.
"It was a pretty disappointing day, for sure, and everything that's happened worked out for me ever since. I'll always be thankful for my time here in Calgary, and every opportunity I've had in Montreal," said Byron, who boasts a career-high five game-winning goals on the year, two of which came in the last three games. "You can never quit. You can never give up. You can never look at things and act negatively. I just tried to take the positive out of it, that Montreal was willing to take a chance on me. So far, it's gone really well."
It shouldn't come as any surprise that last year's Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy winner continues to enjoy success. His philosophy on taking his game to a new level with every passing season is rather inspiring.
"As a person, you grow, you mature, you get older and you get better. People always think that after a certain age, you stop getting better, you're just an old guy, and you can't develop," explained Byron. "We're the best players in the world in the best league in the world. Everyone in this world is one of the hardest working at their craft. There's no reason why I couldn't get better. I have that attitude every day and I want to continue to get better."
STATUS UPDATES: Following Wednesday's on-ice session, Julien provided updates on the health status of Tomas Plekanec, Alexander Radulov and Brian Flynn, all of whom are currently dealing with injuries.
Video: Claude Julien's press conference
With respect to Plekanec, Julien confirmed that the veteran centerman will miss his second straight game on Thursday night as he continues to battle an upper-body injury. While the Canadiens' No. 14 didn't practice with his teammates on Wednesday, Julien indicated that his recovery is headed in the right direction.
"We're continuing to see progress with his upper-body injury," said Julien. "I think we'll see him back skating again soon, and then we can figure out where we're headed with him."
Radulov, meanwhile, did hit the ice during the latter stages of practice. It marked the first time that the Russian forward had laced up his skates in nearly a week after sustaining a lower-body injury. He will be re-evaluated on Thursday morning after being forced to watch the last two games from the sidelines.
For his part, Flynn is "extremely doubtful" for Thursday night's tilt after going down with an upper-body injury in Vancouver, with Julien listing him as day-to-day. He hasn't been ruled out for Sunday night's game in Edmonton, though.
Flynn's injury status means that Michael McCarron could be back in uniform against Glen Gulutzan's squad. The 22-year-old has been a healthy scratch for the last two games.
"There's a good chance [that he'll play]. When you look at Calgary, you see a big team and Michael is a good player," said Julien. "We have a lot of assets right now on our team and we're making tough choices every game. The majority of the guys are playing good hockey, though. You want to make sure that guys aren't in the stands for too long."