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Habs' captain Gionta appears set to return

by Arpon Basu
Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta looks ready to return to the lineup for Saturday's home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Gionta has missed the past 11 games with a groin injury, one of a few key Canadiens components currently on the shelf.

The Canadiens went 4-7-0 and replaced head coach Jacques Martin with Randy Cunneyworth on an interim basis in Gionta's absence.

"You never want to miss time," Gionta told reporters after practice Friday. "Obviously it was a little worse than what we thought at first, but it was something we needed to take care of. There's still half a season left, so hopefully there's time for us to come back."

While Gionta's return was not 100 percent confirmed, the club sent forward Louis Leblanc back down to the minors following Wednesday night's game, which is a good indication that Gionta should be back.

Gionta was skating on the right side of a line with Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec at practice, while the big line of the moment consisting of Lars Eller between Travis Moen and Andrei Kostitsyn remained intact.

Eller had 4 goals and an assist, Moen had 3 assists and Kostitsyn had 2 assists in Wednesday's big 7-3 home win over the Winnipeg Jets.

But Gionta warned that his teammates should not allow that game to veer them off the course of their long-term goal.

"We've talked about it all year, it's the consistency," he said. "We played a great game, we did the things we needed to do to be successful. But we need to do that night in and night out."

The win was just Montreal's second in nine games, and Saturday night the Canadiens will be looking to string two or more wins together for just the fourth time all season.

While Gionta prepares to make a return, defenseman Alexei Emelin had a scare at practice when he took a Yannick Weber wrist shot off the left cheek. He left the practice spitting blood, but Cunneyworth said the puck hit the "fleshy" part of the cheek and the hard-hitting defenseman should be alright for Saturday's game.

Emelin had to have a plate inserted in his left cheek after losing a fight in 2009 against former NHLer Alexander Svitov while playing in the KHL.

Cunneyworth also said that injured center Scott Gomez should be the next player to come off the injured list, though he has yet to practice with his teammates. Ryan White and Andrei Markov have not played a game this season. White's return remains unknown, while Markov will be out until at least the All-Star break at the end of the month.

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