TAMPA BAY – Amidst a hectic regular season schedule, time spent away from the rink can certainly do a body good.
For the Canadiens, who came together as a unit for the first time after five days off at the Ice Sports Forum on Friday afternoon, fresh legs and fresh spirits were on display ahead of the start of the Habs’ annual post-Christmas road swing that will see them play four games over the next seven days beginning on Saturday night in Tampa Bay.
“It was nice to get away for the break and not think about hockey at all. I feel refreshed and a little bit rejuvenated. Hopefully, I can put all of my efforts now into helping the team win,” offered Max Pacioretty, who spent the holidays alongside his wife, Katia, as the couple welcomed their first child, Lorenzo, back on Dec. 23 in Connecticut.
“With the crammed up schedule that we had, it was much needed. I think we were a little worn down, and I think our schedule seemed more crammed than others,” continued Pacioretty, who leads the Canadiens with 15 goals in 29 games thus far this season. “Obviously, we worked out the kinks today in practice. It didn’t feel too good, but hopefully it’ll feel better on Saturday.”
Pacioretty and company are certainly banking on that, most notably because the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are on a five-game winning streak and are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, were among the hottest teams in the league prior to the Christmas break. Despite the absence of sniper Steven Stamkos, Jon Cooper’s contingent has continued to be a force to be reckoned with.
“The team we’re playing here on Saturday night is a really good squad. They’ve got a lot of depth. They’ve got really good goaltending. It’s going to be a really good challenge for us,” noted Carey Price, who turned aside 44 of 45 shots against the Lightning on Nov. 12 in a 2-1 shootout loss at the Bell Centre. “It’s a big road trip. We want to get off to a good start here. That’s our main focus at this point.”
Like his starting netminder, head coach Michel Therrien has the utmost respect for a Lightning squad that has asserted itself as a bonified contender in a tough Eastern Conference through the first-half of the 2013-14 campaign.
“The Lightning are having an excellent season. They’re a team that’s really hard to play against,” underlined the Habs bench boss, who spent the better part of Friday’s on-ice session focusing primarily on fine-tuning his troops’ execution on offense. “They’re very explosive. With a leader like Martin St. Louis, they’ve got a good thing going. It will be another big challenge for us again on Saturday night.”
Fortunately, the Canadiens are ready to get back to business in front of a crowd that will likely boast bleu-blanc-rouge fans aplenty at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“It’s just another game. We might have a little bit more energy now. Having some support down here obviously helps out as well,” mentioned Pacioretty. “Everyone got the break. It seems like we got some more days than most teams, so we should use that to our advantage.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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