MONTREAL — The Canadiens haven’t faced the stress of trying to nail down a playoff spot in the final days of the regular season.
But their pivotal final road trip this week comes with its own set of pressures — namely, trying to get their game back on track before the National Hockey League playoffs and keep home-ice advantage.
The slumping Habs, who are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, have lost four of their last five games. They’ve struggled defensively and in goal, allowing their opponents to score an alarming 23 goals during those four losses.
“Honestly, I think the trip comes at a good time for us, where we’ve just had two good practices,” coach Michel Therrien said on Monday before the team left for New Jersey.
The players had a good attitude during Sunday and Monday’s practices, and the coaching staff did a lot of teaching, Therrien said.
“We’ve got to get back to our good habits.”
The Canadiens play the Devils Tuesday (7 p.m. RDS, TSN-HABS, TSN Radio 690), followed by the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday and they end the regular season in Toronto on Saturday against the Maple Leafs.
The Canadiens practised at the Bell Centre Monday, where they also had their team photo taken. Colby Armstrong, who has missed 10 games with a knee injury, practised on the fourth line with Jeff Halpern and Brandon Prust. When asked about Travis Moen’s status for Tuesday’s game, Therrien said he would reveal his lineup on Tuesday.
Therrien switched up defensive pairings at practice. Andrei Markov was paired with Yannick Weber and P.K. Subban with Francis Bouillon.
Josh Gorges played alongside Raphael Diaz, who returned to play on Saturday after missing 25 games with a concussion.
“We thought the chemistry at the beginning of the year was good,” Therrien said of that defensive pairing.
The team has experimented with its forward lines and defensive pairings over the past two few weeks and other experiments might follow this week, Therrien said.
Therrien was also asked about 19-year-old rookie Alex Galchenyuk, whose average total ice time is 12:15.
Galchenyuk is doing really well — and he’s doing well in the position in which they’ve put him, Therrien said.
“Right now everything is going like we planned it,” Therrien said. “He’s had success and we’re really happy about that.”
Armstrong said he felt good in practice and in some “battle drills,” getting knocked around a little bit.
“I’m good to go. Hopefully I’m in,” he said.
Max Pacioretty, who practised on a line with David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher, said the team has to be confident going into the playoffs.
“Obviously there’s a slip up,” Pacioretty said. “But we’re, I think, third or fourth team in the league to clinch playoffs for a reason.
“We’ve got a good group in here. And being able to overcome this adversity might be able to help us in the long run.”
The Canadiens called up eight players on Monday from their farm club, the Hamilton Bulldogs, whose season ended on the weekend. The players are defencemen Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi, forwards Michaël Bournival, Louis Leblanc and Petteri Nokelainen as well as goaltenders Robert Mayer and Dustin Tokarski.
They’ll spend the week practising in Hamilton with the Bulldogs coaching staff and come to Montreal on Sunday.
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