Canadiens Game Day: Banged-up Habs get ready to play Jets


“We have (injuries) up-and-down the lineup,” coach Dominique Ducharme says. “It’s part of the challenge we’re facing.”

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The Canadiens are a banged-up hockey team.

That was the message from head coach Dominique Ducharme ahead of Friday night’s game against the Winnipeg Jets at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

Forwards Paul Byron and Tomas Tatar aren’t expected to play after missing practice Thursday because of lower-body injuries. Jonathan Drouin is on long-term injured reserve for personal reasons, while Brendan Gallagher isn’t expected back before the end of the regular season because of a fractured thumb and goalie Carey Price is still recovering from a concussion.

As a result, Ducharme couldn’t confirm his lineup against the Jets following the Canadiens’ optional morning skate Friday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.

“There might be changes,” Ducharme said. “We have guys that are banged up up front, on the back end, and we’ll see.”

Ducharme wouldn’t go into details about what other players besides Byron and Tatar might be injured or are playing through injuries.

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“We have (injuries) up-and-down the lineup,” the coach said. “It’s part of the challenge we’re facing.

That challenge became more daunting after the Calgary Flames beat the Oilers 3-1 Thursday night in Edmonton. With the win, the Flames (22-24-3) moved within four points of the Canadiens (21-18-9) for the fourth and final playoff spot in the all-Canadian North Division. The Canadiens held one game in hand on Calgary before facing Winnipeg. The Jets (27-19-3) are in third place in the North Division, six points ahead of the Canadiens.

The Flames are back in action Saturday night when they play the Oilers again in Edmonton (10 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports2). The Canadiens will also play Saturday night when the Ottawa Senators visit the Bell Centre (7 p.m.., SNE, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

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“We’re taking things one game at a time,” Ducharme said. “We’re dealing with a lot right now. We’re just concentrating on the game tonight and things we can control.”

The Canadiens are coming off a 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night and are 2-5-0 in their last seven games while scoring only 12 goals. The Jets are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Oilers Wednesday night and are 0-5-0 in their last five games while scoring only six goals.

“I think everybody’s ready to bounce back,” Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry said Friday morning. “We all know the situation we’re in, we all know what we need to improve on, what we need to be better on. I think with the schedule that we have it’s an opportunity to bounce back quickly after a loss.”

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The Canadiens’ final eight games of the regular season will be played over a 13-day span, starting Friday night against the Jets.

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Look forward, not back

While the Flames are only four points behind the Canadiens, the Jets are only six points ahead of Montreal. The Canadiens can close that gap to four points with a regulation-time win Friday night.

“That’s one thing we’ve talked about is what’s in front of us,” the Canadiens’ Corey Perry said Friday morning. “You want to be in the playoff picture at this time of year and we’re in a good spot. We hold the cards. At the end of the day, we’re up by four points right now over Calgary. We just got to take care of business here at home and go from there.”

Petry had no interest in watching the Flames game Thursday night.

“I didn’t watch a minute of it,” he said. “When I step away from the rink — it’s different on the road where there’s not much to do — but when I’m at home I try to hit the refresh button, reset and not think about hockey too much when I’m away from the rink or worry about other games that are going on in our division.

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“For us, for me, we’re focused on the Jets and getting the two points that are available tonight,” Petry added. “We’re not looking in front or looking behind us. We obviously have some things to improve on and some things that we need to do. So our focus is our team, our group and the way we want to play. I think everyone will say we’ve had waves that we’ve played well and now it’s just a matter of putting that together consistently. … I think our minds are focused on playing consistent hockey here down the stretch.”

This will be the ninth and final game this season between the Canadiens and Jets. The Canadiens have a 2-3-3 record in the first eight games.

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No place like home?

The Canadiens head into Friday night’s game with a 10-11-2 record at home, while they are 11-7-7 on the road.

While the three teams ahead of the Canadiens in the North division — Toronto, Edmonton and Winnipeg — all have records above .500 at home, they all also have better records on the road. The Leafs are 15-7-3 at home and 17-6-2 on the road, the Oilers are 14-10-0 at home and 15-7-2 on the road, while the Jets are 11-11-2 at home and 16-8-1 on the road.

“It must be the COVID,” Ducharme said when asked if he could explain that situation. “It’s 2020-21, it seems that everything is unbalanced or there’s something different. Different challenges, the fact that the crowd is not involved, especially in our division, might be something.

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“Going on the road and being with the team for maybe at times longer trips than we usually do, kind of staying in that bubble for a little bit gets the focus really at a good spot at times,” he added. “So there’s many factors, I think.”

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Where’s the offence?

The Canadiens have been struggling to score goals recently and haven’t been getting much help from their defencemen — especially Petry and Weber.

Despite being key members of the power play, Petry has no goals in the last 21 games and Weber has one goal in the last 23 games.

The Canadiens have only 22 goals from their defencemen this season, led by Petry with 11 and Weber with six. Joel Edmundson has two goals, while Brett Kulak, Alexander Romanov and Ben Chiarot have one each.

“I think everybody’s capable of moving their feet and making a good pass and getting it up to our forwards quickly,” Petry said about the team’s defence. “I think that’s something that everyone can do. In the O-zone we want to be outs for our forwards, we want to move across the blue line, get the puck moving, keep possession and if there’s no shooting lane get it back down low. I think those are things that we can all do and I think we all have to execute a little bit better.”

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Petry doesn’t believe a lack of confidence is the reason the Canadiens have only scored 23 goals in their last 13 games — an average of 1.77 per game — while posting a 4-9-0 record.

“I think it’s a matter of just bearing down,” Petry said. “We’ve had opportunities, we’ve had chances. I think now it’s just a matter of believing in ourselves, knowing that we can score goals and when that opportunity comes not to grip the stick any tighter. Just know that you’re going to have that mindset that when you get the chance you’re going to capitalize on our opportunities. So I think we just have to be mentally prepared when we do get those situations. I think that’s something that can turn quickly. Just making sure that we’re bearing down on our chances.”

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The lines

Here’s how the Canadiens’ forward lines and defence pairings looked at Thursday’s full practice:

Kotkaniemi – Danault – Anderson
Toffoli – Suzuki – Armia
Lehkonen – Evans – Caufield
Frolik – Staal – Perry

Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Romanov – Merrill
Kulak – Gustafsson
Ouellet

What’s next?

The Senators will be at the Bell Centre Saturday night (7 p.m., SNE, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and then the Canadiens will wrap up their four-game home stand Monday night against the Maple Leafs (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

After that, the Canadiens hit the road for three games. They will visit the Senators next Wednesday (7 p.m., SN, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM), followed by back-to-back games against the Maple Leafs next Thursday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, CITY, SNE, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

Following that road trip, the Canadiens will return home to play their final two regular-season games against the Oilers on Monday, May 10 (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and Wednesday, May 12 (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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