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Brendan Gallagher could return to the Canadiens’ lineup Thursday night when they face the Sabres in Buffalo (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM), but Jonathan Drouin definitely won’t play.
Gallagher has missed 10 of the last 11 games since suffering a concussion but practised for the second straight day Wednesday in Brossard since being cleared for contact. Drouin, who hasn’t played since having wrist surgery on Nov. 18, also practised for the second straight day since being cleared for contact but isn’t ready to play yet.
When asked about Gallagher’s status, coach Claude Julien said: “ We just finished practice today. I haven’t had the OK from the medical staff that he’s ready to play. He’s ready to practice, contact. If everything goes well and if he’s feeling good there’s a good chance you’ll see him tomorrow. It’s just that I haven’t been given that answer yet. That answer we’ll probably have later today or tomorrow morning. Once he wakes up if everything is good with him there’s a good chance we’ll see him.”
When asked if Drouin might be ready to play this weekend, when the Canadiens have back-to-back matinee games at the Bell Centre against the Florida Panthers on Saturday and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, Julien said: “ I don’t know. I don’t know where he is right now. He’s healed, but now it’s about how comfortable is he and whether he can tolerate the pain or where he’s restricted and all that stuff. A lot of it now is in his court because the injury has healed. But there’s some stiffness, there’s a lot of different things. That’s where we’re at with him, so I can’t give you a time frame to come back. I think a lot of it will depend on him.”
Paul Byron, who hasn’t played since having knee surgery on Nov. 19, skated by himself after practice Wednesday but there is no timetable yet for his return.
Flu bug hits Habs
Just as Gallagher and Drouin are getting close to returning, the Canadiens have now been hit with a flu bug.
Artturi Lehkonen and Max Domi both missed practice Wednesday with the flu, while Shea Weber skipped practice for a rest day and Nate Thompson took a therapy day.
“It’s unfortunate in this situation that we’re in,” Julien said. “You wish everybody was healthy. But at this time of year, it seems like year after year you’re dealing with those flu bugs. You’re dealing with little injuries and nagging injuries and for some guys it’s getting a day off and being fresh the next day. That day off helps them with whatever the nagging injury is … it helps them heal a little bit. We’re just trying to get through these situations that every team goes through. So that’s where we’re at and, unfortunately, we’re in a desperate situation where you cross your fingers that everybody’s going to be ready to go.”
Kovalchuk fitting in well
Julien had high praise for Ilya Kovalchuk, who has 4-4-8 totals in nine games since signing with the Canadiens as a free agent. Kovalchuk is also plus-4 while averaging 19:47 of ice time and has 25 shots on goal.
“He’s played well,” Julien said about the 36-year-old Russian winger. “He’s done what he’s been advertised to do. I can’t stand here and say why it wasn’t working or why wasn’t he playing (with the Los Angeles Kings). I don’t know and that’s none of our business. But at the end of the day, we needed him. We went and got him. He’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to do. He’s skating well, he’s competing well. He’s got great energy and enthusiasm. I think the whole team is feeding off that.
“A fourth-liner scores for us, he’s on the bench just as excited as if it was him that scored the wining goal,” Julien added. “So he’s got all, I guess, the right approach and the attitude that we need for our hockey club and he’s producing. I mean, he’s almost a point a game, so that’s been a big help to us.”
Rookie Nick Suzuki practised on the same line as Kovalchuk Wednesday morning, along with Joel Armia. Suzuki was almost two months away from his second birthday when Kovalchuk was selected by the Atlanta Thrashers with the No. 1 overall pick at the 2001 NHL Draft.
“It’s really cool,” Suzuki said. “Just coming to the rink and seeing him and playing on the same line over the last couple of practices has been very cool. He’s been a great guy since he got here. Just trying to learn off him.”
What’s with Fleury?
Rookie defenceman Cale Fleury has been a healthy scratch for the last three games.
“It’s a numbers game, but also he’s a young player,” Julien said. “He’s a big hitter, but there’s a lot of parts of his game he’s struggled with lately. So, you know, sometimes taking a step back’s not a bad thing. We go game-by-game with a guy like him.”
Fleury has 1-0-1 totals in 41 games this season and is minus-4 while averaging 14:21 of ice time. He ranks fourth on the Canadiens in hits with 102, trailing Jeff Petry (130), Ben Chiarot (112) and Lehkonen (104).
With Thompson, Lehkonen and Domi not taking part in Wednesday’s practice, here’s how the forward lines looked:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Kovalchuk – Suzuki – Armia
Poehling – Kotkaniemi – Cousins
Drouin – Weal – Weise
The Canadiens headed to the airport after practice for a 2 p.m. flight to Buffalo, where they will play the Sabres Thursday night (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). Friday will be a day off for the Canadiens before their annual Super Bowl weekend matinee games at the Bell Centre against the Florida Panthers on Saturday (2 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday (2 p.m., SN1, SNE, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).
Next week, the Canadiens will play the Devils in New Jersey on Tuesday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) before back-to-back home games against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, SN1, SNE, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).
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