NEW YORK — The Canadiens will be bigger when they visit the New York Rangers Monday night (7:30 p.m., TSN-HABS, RDS, TSN Radio 690), but will they be better?
When the Canadiens arrived here Sunday after their charter flight was delayed several hours by a bomb scare at Trudeau airport, the manifest included two heavyweights in forward George Parros and defenceman Douglas Murray.
They were regarded as key off-season additions as the Canadiens attempt to shed their reputation as a small team, but injuries have prevented them from making a significant contribution. Parros has been out of the lineup since suffering a concussion in the season opener back on Oct. 1.
Murray was still recovering from shoulder surgery when he arrived in camp and then suffered a lower-body injury that was most likely a groin injury. Neither has enjoyed much practice time with their teammates, but coach Michel Therrien is hoping they can add a physical dimension.
Murray expressed his frustration at being on the sidelines last week after practising in Brossard.
“I can’t wait until I’m able to hit someone,” the veteran Swedish defenceman said.
Parros and Murray aren’t the only new faces in the Canadiens’ lineup. The team recalled 2009 first-round draft pick Louis Leblanc from the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon. Leblanc has been out of favour with the Canadiens’ management for the past year, but he has been on a tear the past week in Hamilton. The 22-year-old scored four goals, including three game-winners, in his last three games with the Bulldogs.
The Canadiens have room for at least one fresh face up front because Travis Moen wasn’t on the flight Sunday. Moen was cut on the forehead when he was struck by a puck in Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
The San Jose game was the capper on a disappointing homestand that saw Montreal win only two of five games at the Bell Centre after going 3-1 on a swing through Western Canada.
Therrien said before the game that he thought the Sharks were the best team in the NHL and they shut down the Canadiens with a solid defence led by goaltender Antti Niemi, who stopped 22 shots for the shutout.
The Canadiens’ Carey Price tried to match Niemi’s heroics, but was beaten twice by Logan Couture. Montreal was in the game until a lucky bounce led to the second goal of the third period.
Price went behind his net to play a dump-in by Patrick Marleau, but the puck hit a support and bounced out in front to Couture.
Couture’s first goal came on a power play and it was a case of the Canadiens’ lack of size hurting them. Couture shook off defender Raphael Diaz and moved into position to redirect a perfect feed from Joe Thornton.
“That’s not the way you want to get scored on,” Price said. “You have to give them credit, they played a perfect road game. They never let up.”
But defenceman Josh Gorges said the Canadiens lost their momentum after the second goal.
“We had some chances in the second period and we were staying with them,” Gorges said. “Then they scored that lucky goal and we didn’t respond in the right way. We were down two goals, but we had 13 or 14 minutes left. They played well, they smothered us, but we had to play better.”
The Canadiens were outshot 35-22 with San Jose holding a 13-6 edge in the final period.
Brian Gionta said the Canadiens allowed themselves to fall into penalty trouble early in the game. The Sharks had four power plays, while Montreal had one. There were no complaints about the calls that went against Montreal, but there were suggestions the Sharks might have deserved more time in the penalty box. On one occasion, Brendan Gallagher went headfirst into the boards as he chased a loose puck. It appeared that Matt Irwin may have pushed Gallagher, but there was no call.
In the first period, Alex Galchenyuk received a penalty when he took exception to a clean hit on Gallagher along the boards.
The Rangers, who will be playing their first game in the renovated Madison Square Garden, have struggled to a 3-6 start on the road and are missing key players Rick Nash (concussion) and Ryan Callahan (broken thumb). They will have goaltender Henrik Lundqvist back after missing a week with an undisclosed injury. It remains to be seen whether that’s good news. In his first seven games this season, Lundqvist has a 2-4-0 record, a 3.45 goals-against average and an .890 save percentage.
With back-to-back games on tap, look for Peter Budaj to start in goal for the Canadiens in New York with Carey Price playing against Dallas Tuesday at the Bell Centre.
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