The Canadiens held an optional practice on Saturday morning. Andrei Markov was the only player who did not skate.
George Parros will make his return to the lineup on Saturday night for the first time since suffering a concussion 12 games ago against the Islanders, on Dec. 14.
With Parros back in action, Francis Bouillon will be a healthy scratch against Chicago as Michel Therrien returns to a traditional formation with six defensemen in the lineup after dressing seven D and 11 forwards against Philadelphia.
After missing Friday’s practice while visiting his newborn son in Connecticut, Max Pacioretty was back on the ice with his teamamtes on Saturday and will play against the Blackhawks.
Counting three forwards among the league’s 12 leading scorers in Patrick Kane (2nd, 54 pts), Patrick Sharp (8th, 47 pts) and Jonathan Toews (12th, 45 pts) and leading the NHL with 3.59 goals per game, the Blackhawks represent the Canadiens’ biggest offensive threat of the season to date. While the Habs are aware of the firepower they’ll be facing on Saturday night, they won’t be sitting back watching the Hawks’ snipers go to work.
“In a game like tonight, the best defense is a good offense,” explained Lars Eller, who skated on a line with Michael Bournival and Rene Bourque during Friday’s off-day practice. “Don’t give the puck away when we have it and try playing in their end as much as we can. We know Pricer [Carey Price] is going to give us a chance to win every night. It’s not going to be easy, but everyone in here is motivated and ready to have fun.”
Price will get his 36th start of the season on Saturday, facing off against the Hawks for the fourth time in his career. In three games to date, Price owns a 2-1-0 record against Chicago with a 1.66 goals-against average and .954 save percentage.
The NHL’s 10th-ranked power play unit will also likely have an impact on the Canadiens’ chances of knocking off the reigning Stanley Cup champs. Despite owning an overall 19.6% efficiency with the man advantage this season, the Habs have converted on just three of 33 power play opportunities in the last nine games.
“We need to have better execution and we need to make better decisions with the puck. We need to support the puck carrier better, too,” described Therrien. “Those are all things we worked on during practice yesterday and reviewed again this morning. Special teams are really important if you want to be successful, on both ends [power play and penalty kill], so we need to be really sharp on our special teams if we want to give ourselves a chance to win tonight.”
Saturday will also mark the first time Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin and Habs goaltending coach Stephane Waite will face their former club since leaving Chicago to join the organization.
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