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Early on, Habs being tested by injuries again

by Arpon Basu
BROSSARD, Que. -- All through training camp, the Montreal Canadiens players consistently said that if there was one thing that needed to change for them to have some success this season, it would be their collective health.

Just two games into the regular season, though, the Canadiens have already lost three regulars in defensemen Chris Campoli and Jaroslav Spacek and top-line left wing Michael Cammalleri.

When you add the continued absence of defenseman Andrei Markov recovering from ACL surgery he underwent 10 months ago, Jacques Martin's team is limping pretty significantly heading into its home opener against the Calgary Flames on Thursday.

"We hit the injury bug a little bit early, but that's OK. We've got guys that can step up and play hard," defenseman P.K. Subban said after practice Tuesday. "We've been through this sort of thing before. Guys have to step up."

If there is a hidden silver lining for the Canadiens it is just that; this has become old hat for a team that was forced to use 12 defensemen and lost key forwards for long stretches last season.


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The good news Tuesday was that Cammalleri's laceration on his left leg suffered Sunday afternoon was just a flesh wound, and he should be able to return within 10-14 days, Martin said.

As for Spacek, he suffered an upper body injury Sunday when Winnipeg's Evander Kane hit him near the Canadiens bench. That injury -- likely to the ribs -- will cost Spacek two to three weeks, Martin said.

Markov's return, meanwhile, remains a mystery and Campoli -- injured on opening night in Toronto -- is out until at least December.

Missing those three veterans leaves Josh Gorges and Hal Gill as Montreal's only two defensemen with more than 82 games of NHL experience.

Subban, playing his second full season, is third on the list with 81 games played, while the bottom three of Yannick Weber and rookie European imports Raphael Diaz and Alexei Emelin have 54 NHL games played combined.

"I think we'll have to take on a bigger responsibility of keeping things calm back there, especially trying to enforce the fact of keeping things simple," Gorges said of the role he and Gill will have to play. "It's the home opener, the fans are going to be excited, and a lot of times you get a little overanxious and you make plays you normally wouldn't. So I think for Hal and I to keep everyone calm, cool and collected, and just get them to play their games will be big."

Martin said he didn't think Weber had a strong training camp, which is why he has started both Canadiens games as a right wing on the fourth line. But he considered Weber to be one of the team's best defensemen in Sunday's 5-1 win in Winnipeg and he has confidence in Emelin and Diaz being able to draw upon their significant pro experience in Europe and international competition.

"You don't control injuries, what you control is what you bring to the table," Martin said. "It gives an opportunity to other people -- that's why in the offseason you feel your depth is very important to the hockey club. We added some defensemen in Emelin and Diaz. Did we think we would need them as much this early in the season? Probably not. But they have played pro before in Europe and they are adjusting as they move along."

Up front, the temporary loss of Cammalleri created an opening for Travis Moen to slide in on the left side of Tomas Plekanec and Erik Cole, leaving Martin's other two offensive lines intact.

The line of Scott Gomez between Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty may have been considered the second line before, but it is Martin's most dangerous unit now.

"We're comfortable playing with each other but we know we have to produce to stay together," said Pacioretty, who scored his first of the season Sunday. "The first two games we haven't been on the score sheet too much. But I know once we get a couple they'll start to pour in."

Martin will also be easing second-year center Lars Eller back into the lineup as he received the green light to begin playing again after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder in the offseason.

Eller was playing on a wing on the fourth line at practice Tuesday; however, that could change if he is able to shake his rust and get up to NHL speed quickly.

But he's just relieved to be playing again after he was shielded from contact throughout training camp, and he also hopes his return is a sign of things to come for the Canadiens.

"I'm the first one to return," Eller said, "so hopefully things start to turn around now and we see guys getting back into the lineup instead of going out."
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