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Mitchell return from injury an positive sign as Habs prepare for slumping Sharks @NHLdotcom

BROSSARD, Que. - Centre Torrey Mitchell is set to return and Brendan Gallagher skated, albeit without handling a puck.

So there were encouraging signs on the injury front for the Montreal Canadiens on Monday as they prepared for one of the toughest runs of games of their season.

Mitchell, who has missed 11 games with a lower-body injury, is expected to be in the lineup to face the slumping San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night. The Canadiens play host to Los Angeles on Thursday and then play eight straight on the road until Jan. 6.

"I thought it was going to be two weeks and it took a bit longer," said Mitchell, who has been out since Nov. 19. "I feel ready to play."

Mitchell skated on the fourth line with youngsters Sven Andrighetto and Daniel Carr, both called up recently when the Canadiens were hit with a rash of injuries.

Gallagher, the first line right-winger who has missed nine games with a broken hand, is still an undetermined time away from returning, although skating on a side rink in full equipment with the conditioning coach was a positive step.

Devante Smith-Pelley remains sidelined with a lower-body injury as well. Another right-winger, Alex Semin, is gone after he was placed on waivers last week.

But the run of call-ups to fill openings looks to be abating. Christian Thomas was returned to St. John's on Sunday and, with Mitchell's return, Charles Hudon is likely the next to go back despite picking up a pair of assists in his first two NHL games.

Injuries were starting to show before the Canadiens ended a four-game losing run with a 3-1 win at home on Saturday over the Ottawa Senators. It stopped a streak of six games with fewer than three goals scored.

The 30-year-old Mitchell, a former Shark, will help on many levels. He's strong on faceoffs, kills penalties and plays against opponents' top lines. With five goals and five assists in 20 games, he's working on a career season in points as well.

"The young guys deserve the opportunities they're getting, but when you get a guy like Mitchy back, you don't have to worry about who is on the ice against him because you know what he's made of," said captain Max Pacioretty.

"He knows the players in the league and how to match up and play against them, so it eats up some minutes against the other teams' top lines and that opens up space for all the other lines as well."

Coach Michel Therrien said Dustin Tokarski will start a third game in a row in goal. At least for now, the veteran looks to have taken back the job he lost to Mike Condon in training camp.

Condon was brilliant when Carey Price missed nine games with a lower body injury in November, but he and the rest of the team dipped a little in the eight games their top goalie has missed since Nov. 25 with his latest injury.

One problem has been the power play, which is 0-for-16 in the last five games. They are generating scoring chances, but not putting the puck in the net. It's an area where Gallagher would help by stirring things up near the crease.

"You've got to get the puck to the net and go to the dirty areas," said defenceman P.K. Subban. "Sometimes you're tic-tac-toeing it around and it's pretty and everybody cheers and yells, but if you want it to work consistently, you've got to get used to getting cross-checked in front of the net, slashed, getting hit with pucks."

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