MONTREAL -- Montreal Canadiens defenseman Sergei Gonchar will return Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, though he won't have to look out for David Clarkson this time.
Gonchar will be back in the lineup after missing six games since he was injured two weeks ago at Bell Centre on a hit by Clarkson, who was traded by Toronto to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.
"It's strange, but sometimes it works out this way," Gonchar said about the circumstances surrounding his return after Montreal's morning skate at the team's suburban practice facility.
The 40-year-old Russian is coming back from an upper-body injury he sustained on Feb. 14 when he was sent headfirst into the end boards by Clarkson, who was given a boarding major and a game misconduct on the play.
"It's definitely harder towards the end of the year," Gonchar said. "Teams are playing at a higher pace, you know, everybody competing for the playoffs, but at the same time I've been around for a few years so I know what to expect."
Nathan Beaulieu, Gonchar's defensive partner, came to his teammate's defense and fought Clarkson. The 22-year-old will remain paired with Tom Gilbert against the Maple Leafs. Rookie Greg Pateryn will line up with Gonchar in his sixth straight game for the Canadiens, who are missing injured defenseman Alexei Emelin.
Beaulieu scored his first NHL goal on Feb. 18 while playing 24 minutes, his first of five straight games over 20 minutes.
"You never want to see a teammate go down, especially a guy that's been so close to me over the previous month, so it was tough seeing (Gonchar) go down and I really wanted to prove a point that I want to be here to stay and it was time to step up my game," Beaulieu said. "Then (Emelin) went down and there were two big pieces of our puzzle missing, so we all knew in the room that everyone had to step up a little bit."
Gonchar, who Beaulieu said he sees as a mentor, said his protege has done a great job in his absence.
"He stepped up his game, started playing more minutes, and at the same time you can see in those minutes he was confident," Gonchar said. "He was playing well, skating well, shooting the puck, so I think he's making progress. Obviously he's still young and he needs to work hard and improve himself every day but I think he's moving in the right direction."
Right wing Devante Smith-Pelly will play his first home game after making his Canadiens debut Thursday. Smith-Pelly, a Toronto native, had two shots in 17:11 of ice time in Montreal's 5-2 win at the Columbus Blue Jackets after he was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday in a trade for rookie forward Jiri Sekac.
"I'm excited," Smith-Pelly said. "It's obviously a special building to play in and for the first game to be against the Leafs is special, so I'm happy to have my family coming into town and I'm looking to have some fun tonight."
Clarkson is one of four players who have been traded by the Maple Leafs since they played against the Canadiens two weeks ago, including defenseman Cody Franson (Nashville Predators) and forwards Mike Santorelli (Nashville) and Daniel Winnik (Pittsburgh Penguins).
"It's something we kind of expected and braced ourselves for," Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri. "It's really no different. We're going to approach this game no different."
Here are the projected lineups:
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Nazem Kadri – Richard Panik
Leo Komarov – Olli Jokinen – David Booth
Zach Sill – Peter Holland – Brandon Kozun
Dion Phaneuf – Korbinian Holzer
Morgan Rielly – Roman Polak
Jake Gardiner – Stephane Robidas
Injured: Trevor Smith (lower body)
Max Pacioretty – David Desharnais - Brendan Gallagher
Lars Eller – Tomas Plekanec – Alex Galchenyuk
Brandon Prust – Jacob De La Rose – Devante Smith-Pelly
Michael Bournival – Manny Malhotra – Dale Weise
Andrei Markov – P.K. Subban
Nathan Beaulieu – Tom Gilbert
Sergei Gonchar – Greg Pateryn
Scratched: Mike Weaver, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau
Injured: Alexei Emelin (upper body)
Status report: Maple Leafs interim coach Peter Horachek said Smith may be ready to return if he is needed Sunday at the Washington Capitals, or Tuesday at the Florida Panthers. ... Emelin skated alone before his teammates Saturday. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said Emelin will make Montreal's four-game road trip to California and Arizona, but could not say if he will be ready to play.
Who's hot: Bernier made 47 saves, one shy of his career high, in Toronto's 3-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. … Kadri has a goal and three assists in his past four games. … Subban and Markov were both plus-5 in Montreal's 5-2 win at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. ... Price is 8-0-1 in his past nine starts. Subban, who had three points Thursday, including his first goal since Jan. 20, has 14 points in his past 11 games.