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Upping the tempo

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – With back-to-back games on the docket, head coach Michel Therrien put his squad through its paces on Thursday morning at the Bell Sports Complex.

Coming off a less than stellar effort earlier in the week against the Lightning, the Habs bench boss led a high-energy practice session before the Canadiens chartered to Columbus for a tilt against the Blue Jackets on Friday night. Therrien skated his troops hard, and had them take part in one-on-one battle drills along the boards in an effort to re-establish the compete level he’d like to see from them going forward.

While the Habs’ most recent outing left Therrien disappointed, the veteran coach insists that he liked the way his players responded to his challenge in Thursday’s practice, and he believes that they’re ready for their next two games.

“Today, we held a high intensity practice, and that’s what we wanted to do. Our level of execution was higher than it usually is. We paid particular attention to details. It’s looking good for the weekend [against Columbus and the New York Rangers],” explained Therrien, whose club already bested both of its upcoming opponents earlier this season. “It’s always the result that matters. There were many things that happened last game that I didn’t like, but in the games before that there were a lot of positives, even though we might have lost.”

Among the positives that the Canadiens can look forward to as they get set to play their 20th game of the 2013-14 campaign is the return of both Alexei Emelin and Brandon Prust, both of whom are accompanying the team to Ohio. While neither will dress against Todd Richards’ contingent on Friday night at Nationwide Arena, the possibility that both the hard-hitting rearguard and the power forward could potentially suit up against the Rangers on Saturday night at the Bell Centre is not out of the question.

“Our injured players are starting to come back. We’re hopeful that a few of them will be back in the lineup over the weekend,” noted Therrien, who had Emelin play with multiple defensive partners on Thursday morning, and featured Prust on several different line combinations. “We’re taking it one day at a time. We’re in a position to battle for a spot in the playoffs, so the fact that our players are getting healthy and returning to the lineup is good news.”

As both players inch closer to their much-anticipated returns to active duty, players like Brendan Gallagher are quick to point out what the pair bring to the table for the Canadiens when they step onto the ice.

“We haven’t had Emelin back for a while. He’s a big part of our defense corps. He kind of stabilizes it for us. He’s a big, physical guy that guys need to pay attention to when they’re on the ice,” praised Gallagher. “Prusty’s a heart and soul guy. He works for us and plays in every situation. Getting those two guys back is going to be a huge lift for us, and it creates competition within the lineup.”

With three back-to-back scenarios on the schedule over the next three weeks, Therrien knows full well that he’ll be relying on every available asset to make the best of a tough calendar. That includes giving the nod to both of his netminders, with Peter Budaj scheduled to backstop the Canadiens against a Blue Jackets squad on Friday night that currently sits last in the Metropolitan division.

“I’m just going to be ready. It’s a big game for us. Our last six games, we don’t really have a good record,” offered Budaj, who boasts a 7-5-0 record and a 2.20 goals-against average in 13 career games against the Blue Jackets. “We need to improve. We know that we need to win. We know that we have to pick up points. Every point is huge. Columbus is a tough team to play against. They’ve got a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie [in Sergei Bobrovsky], so we’ve got to be ready.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for

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