Shootout master – At the tail end of practice on Tuesday, the players present were split into two groups to compete in a round of shootouts against netminders Carey Price and Peter Budaj. Both goaltenders were stingy, denying most of the shooters with poise and confidence. A surprise emerged, however, when assistant coach Gerard Gallant, a four-time 30-goal scorer with Detroit in the late 1980s, beat both of them back-to-back with quick wrist shots on their blocker sides. Gallant’s goal drew quite a reaction from the players. After practice, head coach Michel Therrien was asked about whether he was planning on pressing Gallant to don a uniform once again.
“I think I’ll have him put on his skates behind the bench, in case we need him for the shootouts. He’s shown that he still has that magic touch,” mentioned Therrien with a laugh.
Return of the captain – After announcing that Budaj and Price will split starts in the home-and-home series against Ottawa, Therrien also confirmed that Brian Gionta, who has missed each of the five preseason matches to date, will suit up for the seventh and final preseason tilt before the start of the regular season. Gionta says he feels ready to return to action after recovering from surgery to repair a torn biceps tendon incurred during the 2012-13 campaign.
“I’ve been practicing with full contact for a week, so now it’s time to get back into the swing of things,” stated Gionta.
The Habs’ captain is looking to atone for last spring’s disappointing first-round playoff exit against the Senators, and believes that his team can make significant strides this year.
“We’re extremely confident in our abilities [to make another playoff run]. That’s why we were so disappointed last year. We felt we left some things on the table. We are a better team than what we showed,” insisted the smooth-skating right winger.
Solid pairing – Andrei Markov and Raphael Diaz shared the ice for long stretches during practices at training camp, and most recently in Monday night’s 3-2 win over the Devils. The Russian-Swiss combination has been productive at both ends of the rink, with Markov’s experience and vision balancing out Diaz’s youthful exuberance.
“It’s unbelievable how [Markov] always finds the open guy for a pass. Our harmony on the ice is good. We support each other well and we’re using our skating to generate offensive chances for the team,” noted Diaz, praising Markov’s effectiveness at the left point, particularly on the power play.
As the longest-tenured player in the Habs dressing room, Markov will look to up his leadership role in 2013-14 and help his younger teammates further develop their game.
“We have a good group of young players who will become very good assets to the team in the future. Now, it’s about getting better in all facets and trying to do better than last year,” indicated the assistant captain.
Making a point – With many players opting to drop the gloves during preseason matches around the league, George Parros is likely itching to get back on the ice and be a part of the action. Still recovering from a shoulder injury that will keep him out of the lineup until October 1st, the Washington, PA native took some time to talk about the state of his craft around the league.
“It’s a bit crazy [how many fights there have been so far], but it seems like the fans appreciate the action, so that’s a good thing,” related Parros, citing the 72 tussles that have been waged around the league thus far during preseason.
Several of Parros’ teammates, including Ryan White, Nick Tarnasky, Brandon Prust, Brendan Gallagher and Jarred Tinordi, have all been involved in fights during preseason, and the 6-foot-5 enforcer believes that it’s all about making a point.
“The fact that there are so many fights in preseason is not that surprising. Training camp is about showing what you can do to coaches and to opposing players, and sometimes dropping the gloves is the best way to go about it,” mentioned Parros.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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