There were a couple of missing players Thursday as the Canadiens ramped up their preparation for back-to-back games against the Ottawa Senators this weekend.
First place in the Atlantic Division is on the line when the teams clash Saturday in Ottawa (7 p.m., Sportsnet, TVA Sports, TSN-690 Radio) and at back at the Bell Centre Sunday. Montreal is one point ahead of Ottawa, but the Senators held two games in hand going into their home game against the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night.
One big question going into the weekend is the stats of defenceman Alexei Emelin, who is minus-6 in his last three games. There was no clue to his immediate future Thursday because he missed practice with the flu. Emelin was dropped down to the third pair in Tuesday’s loss to Chicago with Brandon Davidson moving up to play with Jeff Petry.
Also absent with the flu was Alex Radulov, who has seen his contract status with the Canadiens become a recent focus of attention. He’s on a one-year deal and will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. The latest report is that he’s seeking an eight-year commitment from the Canadiens, which seems a tad long for a 30-year-old.
Brendan Gallagher skipped practice for a therapy day while Brian Flynn and Nikita Nesterov are injured.
Practice time is sparse because there is little time between games, but Claude Julien took advantage of a mini-break to work on special teams and physical battles around the net. That figures to be important in the upcoming games against Ottawa — the teams also meet next weekend — because the Senators play a physical style and, until the Canadiens added players like Steve Ott, Dwight King and Andreas Martinsen, Ottawa enjoyed a significant edge in size.
Ott and Martinsen were joined in practice by Michael McCarron, but it remains to be seen whether they will play together Saturday because Julien will be juggling his lines if Radulov and Gallagher are healthy.
The Canadiens and Senators will hold a joint news conference in Ottawa Friday to announce an outdoor games to be held in Ottawa next season.