The Canadiens held an optional skate at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Saturday morning ahead of their game against the Leafs. Peter Budaj was the only goalie on the ice along with 14 skaters, including Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk, Alexei Emelin, George Parros, P.K. Subban, Dale Weise, Mike Weaver, Travis Moen, Andrei Markov, Douglas Murray, Brian Gionta, Jarred Tinordi, Ryan White and Brendan Gallagher.
Head coach Michel Therrien announced a few personnel changes ahead of Saturday’s game against Toronto, opting to re-insert Rene Bourque back into the lineup after making him a healthy scratch for the past five games. Bourque practiced on a line with Alex Galchenyuk and Brian Gionta on Friday in Brossard. Ryan White will be the odd-man out up front. Meanwhile on the Canadiens’ blue line, Jarred Tinordi will sit in place of Douglas Murray, who will likely slide into a spot alongside Mike Weaver against the Leafs.
“We want him to play with intensity; we want him to be a presence on the ice and to excel on the penalty kill and in the corners. Those are things we know he does well,” explained Therrien of what Murray is expected to bring to the lineup.”
After watching the last three games from the pressbox as a healthy scratch, Murray will be making his return to the lineup against the league’s heaviest-hitting team, with Toronto currently leading the NHL with 2,252 hits through 71 games in 2013-14. The bruising Swedish blue-liner will be looking to make an impact against the Original Six rival on Air Canada Centre ice.
“You always want to play – you don’t play hockey to watch. I’d like to think I can be effective every game we play and I try to do the same things no matter who we face,” explained Murray, who is second behind Alexei Emelin on the team with 130 hits so far this season. “This is the fun part of the year. You get the same amount of points [for a win] at the start of the year as you do now but as it gets closer to playoffs there’s a little more desperation for each team. The intensity goes up a little bit and it’s fun hockey. These are the easy ones to get fired up for. You have to be on your toes the whole time.”
With 11 games left on the schedule and 22 points up for grabs in the next few weeks, the Canadiens are well aware of where they stand on the Eastern Conference leaderboard. Facing their division rival on Saturday night with potential playoff positioning on the line, the Habs are currently sitting three points up on the Leafs with the same number of games played and are among the top three teams in the Atlantic division while Toronto will be looking to close the gap and move up from their current wild card spot in the East.
“I think we’ve been trying to play playoff hockey for a while now,” mentioned P.K. Subban, who made a rare exception to his policy of not speaking to the media on game days on Saturday morning back home in Toronto. “Whether you’re in a position where you can cement a playoff spot or you’re just trying to make the playoffs or you’re in second or third spot and you’re shuffling for home ice advantage, the important thing at this time of the year is that everybody has to be playing playoff-style hockey. You can’t just turn that switch on once the playoffs start. You have to start preparing for that grind and that type of hockey now.
“At this time of year you have to be ready to execute and play every night,” he added. “The points are so important come this time of the year. Every team – regardless of where they are in the standings – is competing for something. Every game is going to be tough from here on in; we just have to be ready to play.”
Carey Price did not skate with team on Saturday morning, but Therrien confirmed he would get the start against the Leafs. It will be his 52nd start of the season for the 26-year-old who will be looking for his 29th win of the campaign. In three games against Toronto this year, Price has a 1-2-0 record, a 3.38 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.
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