Max Pacioretty and his wife, Katia, welcomed their first child Monday.
Photograph by: John Mahoney
TAMPA, Fla. — An unusually long Christmas break for the Canadiens ends Friday as the team gathers to prepare for Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m., CBC, RDS, TSN Radio 690).
The Canadiens have been off since Dec. 21, when they escaped from Nashville with a 4-3 overtime win. That wasn’t the only escape that night. As the game ended, Nashville was hit by rain and an unseasonable tornado warning, but the team charter was able to take off.
The bulk of the team assembled in Montreal Friday for the flight south, but there were some exceptions.
One group of players got a head start on the sunshine by flying directly from Nashville to Florida.
Daniel Brière endured some weather delays before catching a flight from Nashville to Philadelphia to visit his kids. And Max Pacioretty flew to New York and then drove to Connecticut to be with his wife, Katia. She gave birth to the couple’s first child early Monday morning. The youngster, an eight-pound, 14-ounce boy, is named Lorenzo.
The goal in Friday’s practice will be to refocus after the time off and coach Michel Therrien shouldn’t have any difficulty convincing the players of the importance of the Tampa game. The Lightning (23-11-3) is in second place in the Atlantic Division standings, two points ahead of the third-place Canadiens (22-13-3). Tampa holds a game in hand, so Saturday’s game falls into the must-win category.
The Canadiens are also hoping to maintain some momentum in what is traditionally a difficult road trip. The holidays provide a distraction for most teams, but it’s particularly difficult for the Canadiens because the Bell Centre is turned over to family entertainment and there are two weeks between home games.
There were no Christmas-week games of any kind last season because of the lockout, but in the two previous seasons the Canadiens had a 3-10 record in games around the Christmas holiday. The Canadiens were able to avoid the long-standing Dec. 23 road jinx because they were one of only two teams to get the day off this season.
Therrien will use Friday’s practice to work out the kinks from the layoff and will also assess the condition of defenceman Josh Gorges. He was a game-time scratch in Nashville with a lower-body injury.
The Lightning has been a surprise this season. After finishing 14th in the Eastern Conference last season, the Lightning had a fast start and has maintained a spot near the top of the standings despite losing sniper Steven Stamkos to a broken leg. Stamkos has resumed skating and hopes to play in the Olympics, but the Canadiens won’t have to deal with him Saturday.
The biggest difference for the Lightning has been the addition of goaltender Ben Bishop, who was acquired from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline last season. He has been one of the top goalies in the league this season with a 1.93 goals-against average.
Bishop and Carey Price engaged in a goaltenders’ duel in the teams’ only previous meeting this season. The Lightning won 2-1 in a shootout at the Bell Centre on Nov. 12. Bishop made 27 saves in regulation, but Price stole the show — and a point — with a 44-save performance. Price is expected to start Saturday. It’s the first game of a back-to-back set and Therrien probably will use Peter Budaj Sunday against the Florida Panthers.
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