Audio: Grabovski fallout as Habs prep for Caps

Captain Saku Koivu runs his injured ankle through a workout today before his team’s practice in Brossard. Koivu skated the entire practice, as well, and in all probability expects to return to the lineup next week.
Marie-France Coallier, Gazette

You’ll find the highlights of today’s practice at the posts below, filed from the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard. And below you’ll find the Stubbs news story and column on the Sergei Kostitsyn-Mikhail Grabovski feud, as it were, which might (or might not) resume Feb. 7 in Montreal when the Canadiens and Maple Leafs next meet.

Listen in to a few voices following today’s practice:

Carbo’s bilingual media briefing (fantastic new soundboard in Brossard in a very large room, so the coach will sound great and you’ll barely hear the questions);

Robert Lang on his first half, the team’s first half, the Grabovski affair, and Lang’s picturesque second goal vs. the Rangers, the highlight-reel special;

Captain Saku Koivu on his rehabilitation and Grabovski;

• And a little more Koivu.

Koivu making progress, expects return next week
Ailing Kostopoulos ‘doubtful’ for Saturday tilt vs. Ovechkin’s Capitals

DAVE STUBBS
The Gazette

Canadiens captain Saku Koivu continues to make good progress from an ankle injury suffered a dozen games ago. But don’t look for him to return Saturday night when Alexander Ovechkin brings his high-flying Washington Capitals to the Bell Centre (7 p.m., CBC, RDS, CJAD Radio-800).

Koivu skated for 35 minutes this morning before his teammates took to the ice in Brossard, then joined the club for the full practice, skating with fourth-liners Kyle Chipchura and Steve Bégin. It was Koivu’s first complete workout since his second-period departure Dec. 11 from a Bell Centre game against Tampa Bay.

Koivu has been easing back into more intense work the past five or six days, and it was suggested earlier this week that he might be ready for tonight’s game against the Capitals.

But the 34-year-old centreman said yesterday only that he’s “close” to a return, and hopes to be back “at one point next week, if everything goes well” the next few days after harder practice.

That might put him in the lineup in Boston on Tuesday or back home Thursday against Nashville.

“(Today) was a very short and easy practice, and we’re going to push it more in the next couple of days,” Koivu said after the noon-hour session. “With these type of (injuries), you have to test it with one-on-ones and two-on-twos in practice and hope everything is going to be fine the next day.

“I need a couple of practices at full speed with full contact. If everything goes well, obviously it’s game time.”

The Canadiens are not going to rush Koivu back into action, not with an 8-1-1 record through their past 10 games. If this were the playoffs, he’d absolutely be playing. But there’s a lot of hockey for which the Canadiens will need their captain fully healthy.

“Winning makes things a lot easier,” Koivu said of the patient approach to his return. “The first game that I’m ready to play, I’ll be in the lineup.”

If the Canadiens are hot, the Capitals are a four-alarm blaze, having lost only three times in their past 17 to sit comfortably atop the Southeast Division, ranked second overall to Boston in the Eastern Conference. The Caps had won seven straight before losing 3-0 at home last night to Columbus, outshooting the Blue Jackets 45-23 but running into a sizzling Steve Mason in the visitors’ net.

Ovechkin has 53 points through 40 games, with 27 goals and 26 assists. He is pursued by Niklas Backstrom, 12-33-45 in 42 games and Alexander Semin, 14-20-34 in just 24 games.

“We’re going to be playing a team that’s going well, with players who are extremely dangerous offensively,” Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau said. “It’s going to be a good challenge.”

But Carbonneau is hardly reinventing his wheel for Washington.

“I don’t change the team from game to game,” he said. “We decide early in the season what style we want to play. We might tweak it here and there, depending on the games, but 80, 90 per cent of our game is always the same.”

Carbonneau’s roster, however, might see a few changes, rugged forward Tom Kostopoulos kept off the ice today. He was getting treatment, apparently for an ankle injury suffered during his second-period fight with Toronto’s Jamal Mayers on Thursday.

Bégin returns to the lineup Saturday, and rookie Yannick Weber might be back in if Kostopoulos, called “doubtful” by Carbonneau, is unable to play.

“I’d take 20 guys like that over anything,” the coach said of Kostopoulos, who showed a fine playmaker’s touch in setting up Guillaume Latendresse’s eventual game-winning goal on Thursday.

“The day we signed him, I got a call from Michel Therrien (who’d coached Kostopoulos on Pittsburgh’s farm in 2003-04). He told me he might not be the guy with the most talent, but he’s someone who will show up every night, try to fight everybody and protect players.

“He’s been all of that and more.”

Jaroslav Halak returns to the Canadiens net for his fifth consecutive start, having shone his past two games after being strafed for eight goals the five periods he played before that.

Goalie Carey Price, wearing the new Eastern Conference colour-co-ordinated red equipment he’ll use in the Jan. 25 All-Star Game (assuming he’s healthy), practised for maybe 15 minutes late morning with goaltending coach Rollie Melanson and strength and conditioning co-ordinator Scott Livingston.

He did only a few light lateral-movement drills to test his injured ankle before he left the ice.

The Canadiens would do well to bring some of their new-found offence to the Bell Centre Saturday night, having scored six times in each of their last three victories. They have fired mostly blanks against the Capitals  this season, losing 3-0 and 2-1 decisions.

—–

Hatfields vs. McCoys, NHL style
Kostitsyn-Grabovski feud the talk of the Canadiens

DAVE STUBBS
The Gazette

With each hand, maybe Mikhail Grabovski was merely indicating to the Bell Centre crowd how many goals the Toronto Maple Leafs were going to score on this night.

Maybe he was  totalling the misconducts he’d been assessed.

Maybe – less likely – he was simply flashing the universal signal for victory, or for peace.

Or maybe he was just sarcastically kissing off the Canadiens fans who were hooting him out of the building, his night done with less than two minutes to play.

Mikhail Grabovski will have three games to reflect on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 6-2 loss to the Canadiens Thursday night, and his bizarre role in it.

The 24-year-old Belarus-raised native of Potsdam, East Germany was suspended an automatic three games today by the NHL for abuse of an official, Grabovski tussling with linesman Scott Cherrey in his zealous effort to get at Canadiens’ Sergei Kostitsyn.

The players never did manage to dance, despite their best efforts, and both were handed misconducts for their vigorous efforts, Grabovski given a game misconduct as a bonus.

There is bad blood between these two, litres of it. Apparently it has to do with Kostitsyn’s distaste for things Grabovski is alleged to have said about himself and his older brother, Andrei, to Russia’s sensation-seeking sports media.

(Ask Alex Kovalev about that.)

But a feud needn’t be based on anything, of course, and it seems that before theirs is done, these two are bound to change their names to Hatfield and McCoy.

The simmer was turned up to a near boil two months ago when the Canadiens were handed an embarrassing 6-3 loss by the Leafs in Toronto. Grabovski scored, assisted and butt-ended Canadiens goalie Carey Price, drilled by Kostitsyn late in the game for the unpenalized deed. Kostitsyn drew a misconduct for that.

Thursday’s fun has put the bubbling pot in the microwave.

Grabovski left the Canadiens under a cloud last summer, a player who hadn’t exactly meshed with his teammates. A wormy apple leaving Montreal yielded the draft rights to defence prospect Greg Pateryn and a 2010 second-round draft choice; Grabovski has scored 12 goals and added 11 assists for Toronto this season, and he’s delighted to be the heck out of here.

Postgame Thursday, Kostitsyn quickly replied to the affirmative when asked whether this feud will resume Feb. 7, when the Maple Leafs return to Montreal.

Grabovski, meanwhile, was all over the map with his comments, as quoted by Canadian Press.

“I think he is not Belarussian now,” he said of Kostitsyn. “He is French because I never fight with Belarussian guys. I don’t know why he want to fight with me. If he wants to fight, we’ll go in the street and every minute of every day I’ll wait for him and we’ll fight. …

“(Sergei) is not smart because the older Kostitsyn (Andrei), he never fights with me and he never will because he plays hockey. I think it’s stupid.”

Neither Kostitsyn was lingering after today’s practice to fan the flames, but among those bemused by it all was Canadiens veteran Robert Lang, who currently centres the brothers.

“At that time of the game? To me, it’s just a joke, so why even bother?” he said. “I don’t know the guy (Grabovski), but just from comments he probably wasn’t well liked in the dressing room in the past. He must have done something that ticked the guys off.”

Lang was particularly intrigued by Grabovski’s victorious exit, curious considering the Leafs were five goals down.

“I don’t understand (the salute), especially when you’re losing 6-1,” he said. “He’s a young kid. He’ll probably look at it a little later and wonder, ‘What was I thinking?’ ”

Captain Saku Koivu was intimately involved in the November fracas in Toronto, finally pinning Grabovski to the ice and having a lengthy chat with him, “offering me some advice,” as the Leaf would explain.

Grabovski has said that Koivu is his only friend in the Canadiens room, something that Koivu attributes to his helping a young European with no English perhaps feel a little more comfortable.

“I don’t even remember what advice I gave him,” Koivu lied this afternoon through a grin. “It didn’t look like he had too many friends (Thursday) night.

“He’s a player with a lot of emotions, and a lot of times when emotions get involved too much you might do something you’ll regret afterwards. I’ve seen those things many times and I don’t think they belong in the game. But at the same time I don’t think it’s much of a big thing. It happens in a split second and hopefully he’s going to learn from it.”

Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau had no problem with the spirit Kostitsyn showed, though he suggested that “maybe he reacted not the right way” to an opponent who was taunting the Montreal bench.

Nor does Carbo necessarily expect this to spill over to Feb. 7, a week before warm and fuzzy Valentine’s Day.

“If that’s the way (the Leafs) want to go, we’ll respond,” he said. “I don’t think they came in and said, ‘We’re going to fight all night.’ But it’s a card they want to play – ‘If we’re going to lose, we’re going to lose hard.’ And that’s fine with me. Whatever they want to do.”

Viewer discretion advised, four weeks from Saturday.

dstubbs@thegazette.canwest.com


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