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Northeast: Depth big factor in Habs' success

by James Murphy

Mike Komisarek was forced out of the Canadiens' lineup on Mar. 22 with a lower-body injury, ending a streak of 196 consecutive games. Komisarek highlights
When Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau learned he would be without his best shut-down defenseman, Mike Komisarek, for at least the next two weeks, the second-year coach obviously was disappointed, but not necessarily panicking. One of the reasons, if not the greatest reason for Montreal's success this season, has been the versatility and depth of its lineup, a luxury that comes in handy in times like this.

"One of our greatest strengths this season has been the ability to look to our bench and have guys step right in," Carbonneau said recently. "Everyone seems to know their role and fit in where we put them."

So when Carbonneau received the news on Komisarek on Saturday, he shifted Mark Streit back on defense and moved defenseman Josh Gorges up to the top pairing with Andrei Markov.

Two months ago, Gorges wasn't thinking about playing alongside one of the League's best rearguards in Markov. He simply wanted to get in the lineup. But Gorges is a prime example of what Carbonneau alluded to regarding the team's depth.

Gorges came to the Canadiens in a deal that saw veteran defenseman Craig Rivet head west to San Jose just prior to the trade deadline last season. Despite being a healthy scratch down the stretch and numerous times this season, the 23-year-old has kept a positive outlook and worked hard in practice. Now he is being rewarded for his patience and understanding that his lack of playing time wasn't necessarily a reflection of his abilities.

"We had a good report on him last year," Carbonneau recalled. "It wasn't that we didn't have confidence in him, more that we just had confidence in the players we already had and knew here. This year, though, he's come in and really worked hard. He's battled hard every time he's been given a chance to play and that's a credit to who he is. There's so many things that can happen during a season, and if you have the right attitude like he does, good things will happen."

Gorges is human, though, and he admitted that sitting in the press box gets frustrating. But thanks to the support of his teammates and coaches, he always believed there was a spot on this team for him.

"The start of the year was tough for sure," he acknowledged. "Anytime you're not playing, you feel like you're not helping the team. As professional athletes, we're competitive by nature and want to get out there and help the team win. You can also feel like an outcast, but it's never been that way here. Everyone on this team is so supportive and we're a tight-knit group.

"I can't even count the number of times guys would come over to me and say something encouraging, like, 'Stick with it,' or 'Keep going and you'll get your chance.' There's always been someone pushing me to keep trying."

Based on the team's success and the way Carbonneau has handled the team's depth, Gorges realized that when he wasn't playing, it wasn't, as Carbonneau pointed out, a reflection of his performance.

"Every time I was sitting out, I never felt like it was a punishment," he said.

Gorges also has been motivated by the passion of the Montreal fans and the role hockey plays in the culture of the city.

"They're just amazing here," Gorges said of the Canadiens' faithful. "Nothing compares to this. It's a religion and a belief. I can't even imagine what it would be like to win it all here. I heard they went crazy here in 1993 and I bet they'd be even crazier now."

For now, though, he will enjoy and savor every chance he has to help his team get to that point.

Josh Gorges was aquired by Montreal during the 2006-07 season.
Shootout Summary – The Canadiens completed a season sweep of the Bruins with a thrilling 3-2 shootout win in Montreal on Saturday. Canadiens captain Saku Koivu scored the winner as he beat Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas. Carey Price stopped all three shots, including an up-close, point-blank slap shot by Zdeno Chara.

Who's Hot – Buffalo forward Derek Roy has two goals and four assists in his last three games. Teammate Jason Pominville has three goals and three assists in that same span. … Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson has three goals and four assists in his last four games. … Canadiens forward Alex Kovalev continued his monster season with a two-goal effort against the Bruins last Thursday and two goals and three assists in his last three games.

Black and Blue

Boston – Already facing the challenge of playing without top scorer Marc Savard (broken bone in back), the Bruins lost their second-leading goal scorer as Chuck Kobasew left Tuesday's game early with a leg injury. Savard and Kobasew are listed as day-to-day, but Savard already has been ruled out for the rematch with the Leafs on Thursday night in Boston. The Bruins are also without defenseman Andrew Ference, who is day-to-day with a leg injury. Patrice Bergeron (post-concussion syndrome), Andrew Alberts (neck) and Manny Fernandez (knee) all remain on injured reserve but have been making strides in their recovery, with Fernandez being cleared to play by doctors last week. Defenseman Bobby Allen is day-to-day with back spasms.

Buffalo – The Sabres received more bad news on the injury front this past week when it was revealed forward Tim Connolly's ailing hip would require season-ending surgery. However, there was some promising news on the injury front. Defenseman Teppo Numminen, originally thought to be out for the season after having open-heart surgery in September, continued to skate and may be able to return soon. Forward Michael Ryan (groin), and defensemen Jaroslav Spacek (chest) and Dmitri Kalinin (shoulder) all are day-to-day.

Montreal – The Canadiens have been rather fortunate when it comes to injuries this season, but last week the injury bug finally hit them hard when it was learned they would be without defenseman Mike Komisarek for at least two weeks due to a lower body injury. Montreal also remains without forward Guillaume Latendresse, who is day-to-day with neck spasms.

Ottawa – The Senators lost three key players this past week. Forward Dean McAmmond suffered a thigh bruise, forward Chris Kelly broke his leg and defenseman Wade Redden suffered a leg injury. McAmmond returned Tuesday night, Redden is listed as day-to-day, but Kelly is expected to be out at least three weeks. Forward Cody Bass is still on injured reserve with an ankle injury.

Toronto – Forwards Mats Sundin (groin) and Nik Antropov (knee) remained out of the lineup Tuesday night against Boston and are day-to-day. Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo will miss the rest of the season with a torn groin muscle. Forward Darryl Boyce remains on injured reserve.

The Week Ahead – The Maple Leafs and Bruins play the tail end of a crucial home and home series Thursday in Boston. That same night, the Senators host the Sabres in another important division match-up. On Friday, the Canadiens are in Buffalo. The Bruins host the Senators in a 1 p.m. matinee Saturday, and on Saturday night, the Canadiens and Leafs add another chapter to their storied rivalry in Toronto. On Sunday, the Sabres host the Bruins. Tuesday will see the Sabres and Leafs hook-up in Toronto and the Senators host the Canadiens.

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