BROSSARD – The Habs, within striking distance of the 100-point mark for the first time in six years, welcomed two of its wounded warriors back into the fold at practice.
The Canadiens currently hold 97 points with three games left in the 2013-14 calendar. The last edition of the team to do better was the 2007-08 version, which put up 104 points en route to a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference standings. Holdovers from that year’s squad include All-Star goaltender Carey Price, two-way pivot Tomas Plekanec, and Josh Gorges, a key member of the defense corp who had been out for the past month due to a hand injury suffered while blocking a shot against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“The guys played unbelievable hockey these couple of weeks. Watching the games, you see the commitment to detail and the perseverance. We know about our talent level but to see our team compete the way it does, give up leads but then come back and stay resilient. It’s great,” acknowledged the assistant captain, who has gone from third-pairing blueliner to a cornerstone of his team’s defense since joining the team in 2007.
“With any situation, you try to find the positives. If missing a month means I’ll feel more rested and ready for the playoffs, then I’ll take it and use that as an edge. There are no issues with my hand. Everything feels really good,” added the 29 year-old from Kelowna, BC, whose physical style and propensity for blocking shots has often left him feeling less than one hundred percent at the conclusion of the long NHL regular season in previous years.
“There are different hurdles to overcome every year. This year, the guys are playing a great brand of hockey but there are still things to work on and to pay attention to. It’s not always easy, after clinching a playoff spot, to stay focused and on task, so that’s something we need to keep doing,” cautioned Gorges, who took a regular turn on defense at practice on Monday. He is eyeing a return to play later in the week.
Another player on the mend is forward Dale Weise, who suffered an upper-body injury against Boston on March 24. On Monday, he skated with his teammates for the first time since leaving that game. He too is close to a comeback, just in time for his first postseason as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
“We’ll see how the injury responds tomorrow and determine what the plan is. I’ve been skating for the past week and a half so my conditioning level is good. All I need now is to get some game action under my belt and to work the kinks out before the playoffs,” offered the right-winger, acquired from the Canucks two months ago in exchange for Raphael Diaz. The smooth-skating grinder had formed an effective checking line with Brandon Prust and Travis Moen before all three players were sidelined with assorted injuries in the past three weeks. At practice on Monday, Weise alternated on a line with Ryan White, Michael Bournival and George Parros. With his team in the midst of an 8-2 run in its past ten games, Weise is ready to bide his time.
“It’s good that the team is playing well right now. I wouldn’t want to disrupt their rhythm. I’m just happy to be back,” he concluded.