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Grinding away

Head coach Claude Julien put his troops through their paces on Thursday as the battle for roster spots continues

by Matt Cudzinowski @canadiensmtl /

BROSSARD - With the start of the regular season just one week away, head coach Claude Julien ramped up the intensity level at practice on Thursday.

The high-octane workout came after the Canadiens dropped their sixth straight game, surrendering four unanswered goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 4-2 defeat in Quebec City.

Brendan Gallagher insists that with time winding down before things get going for real next Thursday night in Buffalo, it really was exactly what the doctor ordered.

"That's what we need. It doesn't matter when it is. We're still trying to win hockey games here, and we haven't been getting the results we want and a big part of that is our battle level, our compete level, and we have to be better," said Gallagher, on the importance of up-tempo on-ice sessions this time of year. "It was a good practice. Everyone showed up. Everyone battled. It's the only way we're going to get better around here. Today was a good work day… A good practice day like this is a step in the right direction."

Video: Brendan Gallagher on the Canadiens' preseason results

It goes without saying that Julien is hoping those suiting up for the Canadiens' final two preseason games on Friday night against Florida and Saturday night against Ottawa will carry that same intensity into the games themselves.

For a player like Jacob De La Rose, who continues to battle for a roster spot, there isn't any other way to go about his business right now.

"I'm just trying to take it day by day and every practice and every game I get, I just try to prove that I belong," said the 22-year-old Swedish centerman, who has been held without a point in five appearances so far during the preseason. "It's a big challenge here for everyone. There are only a few spots to fight about and there are a lot of good players here. Everybody is trying their best every practice and every game to prove that they can earn that spot."

De La Rose believes that despite being held off the scoresheet, his work has steadily improved since the start of training camp.

"I feel like I've been getting better for every game. It's tough to be at your best at the start of the season. You haven't played games for three or four months, but that's what you need when you're in my position and you're trying to earn a spot," explained De La Rose, who skated on a line with Paul Byron and Ales Hemsky on Thursday. "In training camp, you have to play at your best right away and I feel like it's going better and better."

Video: Jacob De La Rose on battling for a roster spot

During his post-practice press conference, the Canadiens' bench boss noted that as it stands right now, there are roster spots still to be had - both up front and on the back end alike.

"There are still decisions to be made. We have a core group of players we're satisfied with, but there are still some open spots for other guys," said Julien. "On defense, it might be even a little bit more open. We're comfortable at some positions there, but there are still openings at the No. 6 and No. 7 spots."

Complicating the matter of firming up the Canadiens' blue line has been the extended absence of David Schlemko, sidelined with a hand injury since September 16th.

"He's a player who should be in our lineup, but we would have liked to have a better idea of who to play him with. We'll have to wait and see that down the road, at the right place and time," mentioned Julien, who also provided an update on the veteran rearguard's health status as well. "We still consider him to be day-to-day. Unfortunately, things aren't progressing as quickly as we hoped they would. He's improving, but we thought he'd recover faster."

Goaltenders Al Montoya and Charlie Lindgren both remain day-to-day as well with their respective injuries. While Montoya is still recovering from a neck bruise sustained at practice on Wednesday, Lindgren is dealing with a lower-body injury.

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