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Canadiens' Briere, Prust skate again

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Quebec -- The Montreal Canadiens are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to their early season injury problems.

Canadiens forwards Daniel Briere and Brandon Prust skated on their own Monday for the first time since each were knocked out of the lineup Oct. 19 with injuries.

Briere no longer is experiencing symptoms from a concussion sustained during a game against the Nashville Predators, coach Michel Therrien said. Prust was lost to a shoulder injury in that same game.

The skate Monday was a first step toward a return to the lineup for both players, but the dates of those returns remains up in the air.

"It's another step in their rehabilitation so that's good news for us," Therrien said. "That's all I'll say about it for now."

Briere was hurt when he collided with the Predators' Eric Nystrom, while Prust fell heavily into the boards, sustaining a shoulder injury. Briere has a goal and two assists in eight games while Prust has two goals and an assist in the same number of games.

Canadiens forward Travis Moen practiced with his teammates for the first time since sustaining a facial injury Oct. 26. Moen, who was skating in a non-contact jersey, has missed four games since taking a puck in the face against the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 26.

Furthermore, Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin had his non-contact jersey removed at practice for the first time as he continues his recovery from May surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Emelin, who was signed to a four-year, $16.4 million contract extension last week, hopes to be ready to play sometime next week.

On Saturday the Canadiens welcomed forward Max Pacioretty back into the lineup in a 4-1 loss at the Colorado Avalanche. Pacioretty returned about a week early from a strained left hamstring after missing eight games and played 21:00 with five shots on goal.

Pacioretty's return came two games after defenseman Douglas Murray made his season debut against the New York Rangers on Oct. 28 and one game after forward George Parros returned from a concussion sustained Oct. 1.

While it looks as though Therrien will have his full team at his disposal for the first time this season in the near future, he refused to look that far ahead.

"We don't know what's going to happen this week, so one day at a time," he said. "We're still missing some players but I still believe we're playing some decent hockey."

In spite of all the injuries, the Canadiens would have had the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference if the Stanley Cup Playoffs had begun Monday. Their 8-7-0 record has come despite 11 of their 15 games being against the tougher Western Conference; they have another one coming Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues.

The Canadiens have gone 5-6-0 against Western teams, which means they have a 3-1-0 record against Eastern Conference opponents this season. After the game against the Blues, Montreal will play 14 of its following 15 games against teams from its own conference.

"We wish we had a better record," Therrien said. "We knew that it wasn't going to be easy but we're fighting and we're part of the group that's going to battle to the end to make the playoffs. We know we're part of that group."

One benefit of getting healthy is that Therrien will be able to make lineup decisions based on merit, and a victim of that at Monday was center David Desharnais.

Desharnais was skating on Montreal's fourth line, rotating in with Parros, Moen, Ryan White and Martin St. Pierre, who was called up from the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League on Sunday.

Therrien refused to confirm whether or not Desharnais will be in the lineup Tuesday.

Desharnais, who signed a four-year, $14 million contract extension in March that went into effect this season, has one assist in 15 games. Dating to last season and including five playoff games, Desharnais has one goal and eight assists in his past 32 games.

Desharnais' ascension to the NHL as an undersized, undrafted player who dominated in the ECHL and AHL before a breakout 60-point season in 2011-12 was an inspiring tale, and it is his past success in overcoming adversity that he will rely on now to get out of his funk.

"There's no greater pressure than what I'm putting on myself right now," Desharnais said. "I don't want to be playing badly. I don't want to be going out on the ice and doing nothing. To get here [to the NHL] it took a lot of character so I'm going to have to show that again."

Therrien has given Desharnais many opportunities to have success this season, giving him top linemates and playing him in offensive situations. After gradually clawing back Desharnais' minutes, Therrien benched him for the first half of the third period of the loss Saturday in Colorado before playing him on the wing on the fourth line.

Therrien is at a loss to explain what happened to a player who looked so promising only two years ago.

"If I could find that button I would have pressed it a long time ago," he said. "We all want him to be able to play like the guy that this organization showed a lot of confidence in. But for the last little while he hasn't met expectations with the way he's played. He wants to play well and it's our challenge to get him to succeed. He's having trouble right now but we'll keep working with him. We haven't lost hope."

With Desharnais moved out of the top-nine, second-year forward Alex Galchenyuk benefits by moving to his natural position at center on Montreal's top line, flanked by Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. Lars Eller, who previously was centering a line with Galchenyuk and Gallagher, moves to the third line between Rene Bourque and Louis Leblanc.

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