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Habs shake things up at practice

by Arpon Basu /
BROSSARD, Que. – The Montreal Canadiens and their embattled coach Randy Cunneyworth made some wholesale changes to their line combinations at practice Monday, and it looks as though two young players who were punished as healthy scratches last game are the biggest beneficiaries.

Defenseman P.K. Subban – the team leader in ice time – and center Lars Eller watched the Canadiens 4-0 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg on Thursday from the press box.

But at practice Monday, Subban was on Montreal's top defense pairing with Josh Gorges and Eller was centering what could be considered the Canadiens top forward line between the team's top two goal scorers – Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole.

The two players went from sitting out as healthy scratches to playing prominent roles in the lineup over the break, a Christmas present that both Subban nor Eller could have seen coming based on what happened in Winnipeg.

"When you're not getting the results, you have to make some changes, try some things," Cunneyworth said after a high-energy, one hour skate at the Canadiens suburban practice facility.

The Canadiens therefore broke up their most productive line that had David Desharnais between Pacioretty and Cole. Desharnais is now centering a line with Mike Cammalleri and rookie Louis Leblanc while Tomas Plekanec was between Andrei Kostitsyn and Travis Moen. Petteri Nokelainen was centering Michael Blunden and Mathieu Darche on the fourth line.

On defense, after the Subban-Gorges pairing, Hal Gill was with Raphael Diaz and Alexei Emelin was paired with Tomas Kaberle.

However, Cunneyworth later noted that "nothing is set in stone" when it comes to his lineup for Tuesday night's game in Ottawa.

"This isn't about me, it's about the team," Eller said. "We had two days off, so it will give us a chance to get a fresh start with a new mindset. I just want to help the team win."

Subban called it embarrassing to be a healthy scratch in Winnipeg, but after posting a minus-5 rating in his three previous games – and admitting publicly having cost his team with glaring errors in losses in Boston and Chicago – he said he needed to make sure he played well enough so he would never find himself in the same situation again.

"If I have the chance to play, I have to do my job," he said. "If there are six or seven guys who are playing better than me, and if that's what the coach thinks, that's the decision he's going to make. You can't be surprised. It's a part of the job. He asked me to sit down and that's what I did. I sat down. I don't know if I'll be back in the lineup, but if I am, I'm going to try to play the way I know I can."

With 46 games left, the Canadiens (13-16-6) sit 12th in the Eastern Conference and are in serious risk of drifting out of the playoff picture if they can't turn things around quickly. After Tuesday night's game in Ottawa, Montreal will complete its season-long six-game road trip with visits to the Lightning on Thursday and the Panthers on Saturday.

Captain Brian Gionta and center Scott Gomez will not make the trip while both nurse injuries. Long-term casualties Ryan White and Andrei Markov – neither of whom has played a game this season – are not close to a return.

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