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Canadiens' Smith-Pelly to debut vs. Blue Jackets

by Craig Merz

CANADIENS (39-16-5) at BLUE JACKETS (26-29-4)

TV: RDS, SNE, FS-O

COLUMBUS -- Devante Smith-Pelly was traded to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday but already feels at home.

He said his new teammates have made him feel welcome and the fact he will make his Canadiens debut at right wing Thursday at the Columbus Blue Jackets also is a good sign.

Smith-Pelly, 22, had spent some time on the left side and at center for the Anaheim Ducks before being traded for forward Jiri Sekac.

"I'm willing to play anywhere I need to but right wing is where I'm most comfortable," Smith-Pelly said. "I pride myself on playing any forward position but at the same time that's where I've played my whole life. It's second nature. I don't really have to think on the right side."

Smith-Pelly had five goals and 17 points in 54 games with the Ducks this season and 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) in 129 regular season games.

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien made it clear where he feels Smith-Pelly is best suited.

"He's here with us to play on the right side," Therrien said.

Therrien said the Canadiens (39-16-5) are a good fit for Smith-Pelly.

"We've got good chemistry" he said. "It's a young team. … It's a great situation for young players to join a team like that. He's really excited to be a part of our team. He's going to get an opportunity to play."

Smith-Pelly said he is anxious to do his part.

"I'm a physical player, a two-way forward," he said. "My game is pretty simple up and down the wing. I finish all my checks. Hopefully I can contribute offensively as well."

His first chance will be against the Blue Jackets (26-29-4), who have lost three straight and are 11 points behind the Boston Bruins for the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Goaltender Curtis McElhinney will start for the Blue Jackets after rookie Anton Forsberg was in goal for a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday. Forsberg, called up a month ago when starter Sergei Bobrovsky sustained a groin injury that has kept him out the past 14 games, was returned to Springfield of the American Hockey League on Wednesday.

Forsberg was 0-4-0 with a 4.49 goals-against average and .866 save percentage in five games.

Rookie Oscar Dansk was promoted from Springfield to back up McElhinney and is awaiting his NHL debut. Bobrovsky is practicing but Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said he is not 100 percent and gave no timetable for his return.

The other change is moving Nick Foligno from the third line to the first with center Ryan Johansen and rookie Alexander Wennberg while Scott Hartnell takes Foligno's spot alongside center Artem Anisimov and rookie Marko Dano.

"[Foligno and Johansen] have a history of playing together," Richards said. "The other reason is with Hartnell down with Anisimov and Dano, that's how we started the year and that line was pretty good for us. It's one minor change to try and shake things up."

Here are the projected lineups:

CANADIENS

Lars Eller - Tomas Plekanec - Alex Galchenyuk

Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Brendan Gallagher

Brandon Prust - Jacob De La Rose - Devante Smith-Pelly

Michael Bournival - Manny Malhotra - Dale Weise

Andrei Markov - P.K. Subban

Nathan Beaulieu - Tom Gilbert

Jarred Tinordi - Greg Pateryn

Carey Price

Dustin Tokarski

Scratched: Mike Weaver, Christian Thomas

Injured: Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (concussion), Alexei Emelin (upper body), Sergei Gonchar (upper body)

BLUE JACKETS

Nick Foligno - Ryan Johansen - Alexander Wennberg

Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson

Scott Hartnell - Artem Anisimov - Marko Dano

Corey Tropp - Mark Letestu - Jared Boll

Jack Johnson - David Savard

Jordan Leopold - James Wisniewski

Fedor Tyutin - Cody Goloubef

Curtis McElhinney

Oscar Dansk

Scratched: None

Injured: Nathan Horton (back), Jack Skille (shoulder), Boone Jenner (stress fracture in back), Sergei Bobrovsky (groin), Jeremy Morin (heart), Ryan Murray (high ankle sprain), Dalton Prout (upper body), Kevin Connauton (lower body)

Status report: Connauton sustained a lower-body injury Tuesday and will be replaced by Leopold, who will play for the second time in three games after being a healthy scratch in the previous five. Richards said Connauton is questionable for the two games this weekend. … Parenteau and Gonchar have been cleared to practice and are close to returning.

Who's hot: Subban has 11 assists in the past 10 games. ... Markov has two goals and nine assists in the past nine games. … McElhinney is 5-2-1 with a 2.11 GAA and a .937 save percentage in his past eight starts since Feb. 6 and is 9-4-1 with a 2.29 GAA and .930 save percentage in 14 starts since Dec. 27.

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