Paul Byron will return to the Canadiens lineup Monday night at the Bell Centre against the Washington Capitals (7:30 p.m., SNE, RDS, TSN Radio 690) after missing Saturday’s game in Toronto with an upper-body injury.
Byron will take Daniel Carr’s spot in the lineup.
Alex Galchenyuk (knee), Andrei Markov (groin) and Andrew Shaw (concussion) all took part in Monday’s morning skate in Brossard, but aren’t ready to return to the lineup yet. David Desharnais (knee), Brendan Gallagher (hand) and Greg Pateryn (ankle) remain on the long-term injury list.
“They’re getting close,” coach Michel Therrien said about the other injured players who skated Monday morning. “The only one that’s going to come back is Paul Byron tonight. After that I know (the rest) are going to meet our doctors tonight. But the rest they’re not going to play tonight.”
Byron was injured last Wednesday in Dallas on a solid bodycheck from the Stars’ Patrick Sharp.
“Just an upper-body,” Byron said about the injury. “Didn’t feel that great right after the hit. Took a couple of days off, let the body recuperate, get some treatment and everything feels a lot better now. I feel great. Had a real couple of good days here (skating) in Brossard. It sucks to miss the game Saturday, but I feel a lot better.”
Torrey Mitchell dropped the gloves and fought Sharp after the hit in Dallas, which meant a lot to Byron.
“He’s a good, character guy,” Byron said about Mitchell. “He always has my back, always has everyone’s back. Just shows what kind of guy he is on the team. He steps up for everybody. We’re a pretty tight group, so it didn’t surprise me at all.”
Byron has 12-11-23 totals in 39 games this season.
Habs hit midway point of season
The Canadiens will hit the midway point of their season Monday night when they play their 41st game.
The Canadiens come into the game in first place in the Atlantic Division with a 25-9-6 record, nine points ahead of the second-place Boston Bruins. The Canadiens rank fourth in the NHL in average goals scored per game (3.08) and fifth in average goals allowed per game (2.30) and have the fifth-best record in the overall NHL standings.
“Midway, you know what, there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Therrien said. “For sure, we have to be satisfied. But we all understand that the biggest challenge is coming.”
Despite all the injuries, the Canadiens went 4-1-2 on their seven-game road trip that wrapped up with Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Leafs in Toronto. Therrien said this is a much different club than the one that simply fell apart last season after goalie Carey Price went down with a knee injury in late November.
“Big difference,” Therrien said about this year’s team. “First of all, I’ll say the leadership group is doing a fantastic job. Kids are coming into a really different atmosphere. The team spirit has been great since Day 1 and the leadership group is doing a fantastic job.”
You can watch Therrien’s full Monday morning news conference on the HI/O Facebook page.
Ovechkin sets sights on Rocket Richard
The Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin comes into the game with 543 career goals and needs one more to tie former Canadien Maurice (Rocket) Richard for No. 29 on the NHL’s all-time list. Ovechkin is also four points away from reaching the 1,000 mark.
Ovechkin would become the 84th NHL player to reach 1,000 points and the fourth Russian after Sergei Fedorov (1,179), Alexander Mogilny (1,032) and Alex Kovalev (1,029).
“We hope it’s not going to happen here, but it’s going to happen eventually, that’s for sure,” Therrien said about Ovechkin catching up to Richard.
“We all know we have to pay attention to a shooter like that,” the Canadiens coach added. “Do we change everything? No. We got to believe in our structure. Obviously, we got to take his time and space away because he could hurt you in a matter of seconds, so we have to be aware when he’s on the ice.”
Ovechkin has won the Maurice Richard Trophy six times as the NHL’s leading goal-scorer, including the last four seasons, but has only 18 goals this season, tied for 10th in the NHL and eight goals behind league-leader Sidney Crosby.
“Ovi’s a guy that likes those big moments,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said after his team practised Sunday in Brossard. “I know he loves playing in Montreal. He always gets excited. Since I’ve been here, he’s always played well in Montreal. I think it’s just a real great atmosphere, it’s got great tradition. For whatever reason, there’s certain arenas that players seem to play better or play to their capabilities and get excited about, and Montreal is one that I think he does. My experience in the two-plus years I’ve been here (in Washington), he’s played very well at the Bell Centre.”
Canadiens defenceman Shea Weber said it takes a team effort to shut down a player like Ovechkin.
“Obviously, limit a guy like that’s time and space,” Weber said after Monday’s morning skate. “He’s one of the best, if not the best shooter in the league. You give him time, he’s going to score. So you got to try and limit that and limit his opportunities.”
Ovechkin said after Sunday’s practice that he loves playing in Montreal.
“Montreal is one of my favourite cities to play,” he said. “The fans, the atmosphere, it’s crazy. I like being here. It’s always fun.”
Habs work on power play
The Canadiens spent most of Monday’s morning skate working on the power play and had three different units. Here’s how they looked:
Pacioretty – McCarron – Radulov
Petry – Barberio
Scherbak – Danault – Byron
Weber – Beaulieu
Lehkonen – Plekanec – Andrighetto
Weber – Beaulieu
Therrien said he has been impressed by the play of Mike McCarron since he was called up from the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps and the 6-foot-6, 231-pound centre has been doing a good job screening the goaltender on power plays.
“With Michael, the thing that’s good is he’s getting better every year since we drafted him,” Therrien said. “He’s more comfortable this year than he was last year. There’s still a lot of things he needs to improve. But I like the progress. He’s a presence, he’s got decent skills. He’s doing a good job in front of the net on the power play, obviously, the last two games. But more and more, he’s getting comfortable with that level (in the NHL).”
McCarron has 1-3-4 totals in 11 games with the Canadiens this season.
Habs have upper hand on Caps
This will mark the 161st meeting in NHL history between the Canadiens and Capitals and Montreal leads the series 76-59-17-8, including a 42-26-8-4 record at home.
The Canadiens beat the Capitals 2-1 the first time they met this season on Dec. 17 in Washington. However, the Capitals have earned a point in seven of their last nine games against the Canadiens (5-2-2) and in 20 of their last 24 (16-4-4). Washington has also earned at least one point in each of their last 12 games at the Bell Centre (10-0-2). Capitals goalie Braden Holtby has a career 8-1-2 record against the Canadiens with a 1.64 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage.
Tomas Plekanec is the Canadiens’ leading scorer in games against the Capitals with 14-15-29 totals in 41 games. Plekanec, in the first season of a two-year, US$12-million contract, has only 3-14-17 totals in 40 games this season.
Win No. 400 for Therrien
Therrien picked up his 400th career win when the Canadiens beat the Maple Leafs 5-3 Saturday night in Toronto with seven injured regulars missing from his lineup.
Therrien ranks 35th on the NHL’s all-time list for coaching victories and 265 of them have come with the Canadiens. He ranks fourth on the Canadiens’ all-time list for most coaching victories behind Toe Blake (500), Dick Irvin (431) and Scotty Bowman (419).
Plekanec is Canadiens’ iron man
Plekanec will play in his 211th consecutive game Monday night, the longest streak of any Canadiens player. Max Pacioretty ranks second with 122 consecutive games played, followed by Phillip Danault and Torrey Mitchell (91 each).
The Canadiens have already lost 119 man-games to injury this season with 16 players having been on the injured list. By comparison, the Capitals have lost a league-low nine man-games to injury all season with only three players going on the injured list.
Capitals call up Carey
The Capitals called up forward Paul Carey from the AHL’s Hershey Bears on Monday morning. Carey has 10-15-25 totals in 28 games with the Bears this season and is pointless in three games with the Capitals.
T.J. Oshie suffered an upper-body injury during the Capitals’ 1-0 win over the Ottawa Senators Saturday night on a check from Dion Phaneuf, while Tom Wilson suffered a lower-body injury after being hit with a shot. They have both been listed as day-to-day. The Capitals recalled forward Liam O’Brien from Hershey before leaving on their current road trip.
The Capitals are on a five-game winning streak. Nicklas Backstrom leads the Capitals in scoring with 9-23-32 totals, followed by Ovechkin (18-12-30) and Marcus Johansson (14-14-28).
This Date in Habs History
On Jan. 9, 1958, Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion recorded his sixth career hat-trick and added two assists in an 11-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the Forum.
On Jan. 9, 1971, goalie Rogie Vachon recorded his 12th career shutout and Yvan Cournoyer scored the only goal as the Canadiens beat the Los Angeles Kings 1-0 at the Forum.
The Canadiens will practise at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Brossard before hitting the road for games in Winnipeg Wednesday night (7:30 p.m., SN, RDS, TSN Radio 690) and Minnesota Thursday (8 p.m., SNE, RDS, TSN Radio 690). The New York Rangers will be at the Bell Centre on Saturday night (7 p.m., SN, TVA Sports, TSN Radio 690).
(Photo: John Mahoney/Montreal Gazette)