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Canadiens goalie Price full participant at practice

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Quebec -- Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price had his best day at practice Friday, according to coach Michel Therrien, but his status remains day-to-day in his recovery from a lower-body injury he aggravated playing for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Price has missed eight NHL games since his return from the Olympics; the Canadiens are 3-4-1 and have allowed 28 goals in his absence.

"Watching how he's played goal since the start of the season and seeing how he played at the Olympics, we can say he's one of the best goalies in the National Hockey League," Therrien said. "When you lose your best player it's going to have an effect on you.

"We can't use that as an excuse; we have no excuses on our team. But Carey is our best player and one that is very important. Any team that loses its No. 1 goalie for a period of time is going to be affected."

Carey Price
Carey Price
Goalie - MTL
RECORD: 26-17-5
GAA: 2.33 | SVP: 0.925

The practice Friday was the first when Price was a full participant since his return from Sochi. Price was on the ice for practice Tuesday, the Canadiens' first aside from morning skates since Feb. 28, but he did not take shots from teammates until the end of the skate and spent most of his time stretching and taking shots from goaltending coach Stephane Waite.

Price appeared to have no limitations in what he did on the ice Friday, and at one point he took a Brandon Prust shot off his knee and got bumped a few times during battle drills late in practice.

The Canadiens play a back-to-back set this weekend, at home Saturday against the Ottawa Senators (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, CBC, RDS) and on the road Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres. Therrien would not confirm Price would play in either game.

"He had a really good day [Friday]," Therrien said. "But from our standpoint nothing's changed. He's day-to-day and we'll see where he's at [Saturday]. We're really pleased about the way he was able to practice [Friday]."

Backup goaltender Peter Budaj is 2-4-1 with a 3.51 GAA and .869 save percentage in seven starts since the return from the Olympic break. Montreal's third goaltender, Dustin Tokarski, has a 2.91 GAA and .922 save percentage in two games and won his only start, a 4-3 shootout victory at the Anaheim Ducks.

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin acquired goaltender Devan Dubnyk from the Nashville Predators prior to the NHL Trade Deadline in exchange for future considerations, but Dubnyk was sent to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League and has not played for the Canadiens. In two games with Hamilton Dubnyk is 0-2-0 with a 3.03 GAA and .908 save percentage.

According to Therrien, Price understands the urgency of the situation and has done everything in his power to make his absence as short as possible.

"Since he came back from the Olympics with this injury, he's worked extremely hard to come back to play as quickly as possible," Therrien said. "He's put in a lot of effort, whether it's in the gym, in the clinic or on the ice before practice. He hasn't had a day off since he's been back. He deserves a lot of credit. He's impressed me with the way he's carrying himself."

One area where Price's eventual return will not help the Canadiens is scoring, which arguably is their biggest problem right now. Prior to games Friday, Montreal was 23rd in the NHL in goals per game with 2.42, and 29th in goals scored 5-on-5 with 100 in 67 games.

The acquisition of forward Thomas Vanek was supposed to help address that need, but the Canadiens have scored three goals in losing all three games Vanek has played for them.

Therrien juggled his lines at practice Friday by putting Vanek at right wing on the top line, with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty. The regular right wing on that line, Brendan Gallagher, was moved to a unit with center Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk, and Daniel Briere took Vanek's spot on the left of Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.

The one problem with the new lines is Vanek clearly has stated his preference to play left wing; he hasn't really played any other position since very early in his career. Therrien said he spoke to Vanek about the move and that he was fine with it.

"He's got to make some adjustments to his game," Therrien said. "I understand that he's confident on the left side; he's been playing there most of his career. But at times you've got to adjust with the players that you've got and put together lines that you think will give you success as a team."

The biggest winner in the shuffling could be Eller, who has one assist in 24 games but began the season on fire playing with Gallagher and Galchenyuk. Eller had five goals and two assists in his first five games of the season, but Therrien broke up the line in November to put Gallagher with Pacioretty and Desharnais. The move worked in the sense that Gallagher was able to spark Pacioretty and Desharnais out of extended slumps, but neither Eller nor Galchenyuk has been the same since.

"[Eller] is a big, powerful guy who skates well and plays straight-line hockey, that's when he's at his best," Gallagher said. "With [Galchenyuk] you see the vision that he has, he makes plays that you don't even think are there so you just have to be ready. I just try to work and find those two guys whenever I can."

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