Game 5: Coyotes at Canadiens

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From Saturday’s Montreal Gazette:

Look for Christopher Higgins to be back in the lineup tonight when the Canadiens host the Phoenix Coyotes, but he’ll have to adjust to new playmates.

Higgins, who has been sidelined by a groin injury, is expected to receive medical clearance and he’s pencilled in for a spot on the No. 3 line with Robert Lang and Sergei Kostitsyn.

Sorry, did we say the No. 3 line? Head coach Guy Carbonneau reminded the media yesterday that he doesn’t assign numbers to his lines and there is some evidence that, with the return of Higgins, the Canadiens have three well-balanced lines.

Higgins usually plays with Saku Koivu, but Carbonneau elected to keep Guillaume Latendresse on a line with Koivu and Alex Tanguay. They have combined for 14 points this season, with Latendresse collecting a goal and four assists.

It’s a vote of confidence for Latendresse, 21, and a feeling that Higgins will be a good fit with Lang and the younger Kostitsyn brother.

Carbonneau said Higgins is a go-to player, although his status for tonight’s game and beyond depends on his health.

"If he’s not healthy, he’s not going to help the club," Carbonneau said. "He has to be 100 per cent and he has to feel it. The doctor can tell you he’s okay, but if he’s not ready, there’s always doubt in his mind. It’s a different game today. The pace is really fast and if you’re not ready to follow it, you’re not a help to your teammates.

"Chris had a good practice, but we’ll have to see how he feels tomorrow. But if he’s healthy, he’ll definitely help his club." Higgins sent word that he didn’t want to discuss his status until he was cleared by doctors, but his good friend, Mike Komisarek, said he was confident Higgins would be back tonight.

"He’s chomping at the bit," Komisarek said.

As for Latendresse, Carbonneau said he wasn’t surprised by the young man’s fast start this season.

"What he did the last two years is pretty nice," said Carbonneau. "He has 32 goals at his age. he’s only 21 years old and we tend to forget that. He’s only averaged about eight minutes a game with very little power-play time. We know he has good hands and all he needed was a chance to play with better players. His chance is there and he’s taking advantage of it."

There have been suggestions over the past two years that Latendresse would have benefited from some time in the American Hockey League, but he said that he had no doubts that he is an NHL player.

"I was just waiting for a chance like this," Latendresse said. "I got a break because Higgy got hurt, but I’m happy that I can show that I can bring something to the team. For sure, we’re better with Higgy in the lineup, but I think we have three lines that score points."

While Higgins appears set for a start tonight, defenceman Francis Bouillon may have to wait.

While he is expected to receive medical clearance for an undisclosed leg injury, he and Mathieu Dandenault were the extra defence pair in practice yesterday. That would suggest neither will be in the lineup tonight and that Tom Kostopoulos, who has been playing with Lang, will join Maxim Lapierre and either Steve B├ęgin or Georges Laraque on the fourth line.

The Coyotes have some tough guys, but Laraque’s services as an enforcer may not be needed tonight. Brian McGrattan has dressed for only one game for the Coyotes, while Daniel Carcillo was suspended for two games for coming off the bench Wednesday to fight Chicago’s Ben Eager.

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