Montreal Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin is helped by a trainer after being checked by Boston Bruins left wing Milan Lucic, not shown, during first period National Hockey League action Saturday, April 6, 2013 in Montreal.
Photograph by: Ryan Remiorz, THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL — Michel Therrien’s belief in the team concept will once again be put to a test as the Canadiens deal with the loss of defenceman Alexei Emelin with a season-ending knee injury.
“This is obviously a big loss for us, but we lost (Raphael) Diaz and (Rene) Bourque and (Brendan) Gallagher was out for 10 days,” said Therrien. “They were important parts of our team, but we found ways to fill those gaps because the players really bought into our system of play and the team concept. All season long, we’ve managed to deal with losing key elements of our team while still being able to come through and win games.”
The Canadiens confirmed Monday that Emelin suffered torn ligaments in his left knee in a no-fault collision with Boston’s Milan Lucic Saturday night.
The injury had Therrien shuffling the deck in preparation for Tuesday night’s visit from a streaking Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals (7:30 p.m., TSN-Habs, RDS, TSN-690 Radio).
Davis Drewiske, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings last week, will take Emelin’s place alongside Andrei Markov. Josh Gorges and P.K. Subban will continue to play together and may see more ice time. And Francis Bouillon will return to his mentor role as he is joined by rookie Nathan Beaulieu, who was recalled from Hamilton on Sunday. Therrien said Beaulieu received the nod over Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn because he can fill in on the second power-play unit.
Drewiske, who spent most of last month as a healthy scratch with the Kings, was handed a larger role after Emelin left in the first period of Saturday’s game against the Bruins. He played 23:08, delivered a hit and blocked three shots.
“I hope I can step in and pick up some of the slack,” Drewiske said after practice Monday. “(Markov’s) a great player and a great guy to learn from.”
Drewiske said he will play to his strengths.
“There are a few things I want to do, play physical, be strong in the corners and move the puck quickly. There are some things that are a little different, but I like the system and the way guys work hard to support each other. They’ve had a lot of success and I hope to contribute to that.”
Gorges put the loss in perspective when he said: “Anytime you lose a player for the season it’s bad news, and this was a guy that was playing so well for us this year, too. It sucks to see him have to go through that – I know what that’s like – but we’re going to have to find a way. The style he plays and what he brings to this team is hard to replace. It’s up to us to be resilient, find ways and find answers. You can’t stress too much about what isn’t there — you have to find a way to move on, as hard as that may be.”
Emelin led the Canadiens with 110 hits and that’s one area where he will be missed.
“Emelin brought something that a lot of other guys don’t have, especially with the ferocity he plays with,” said Gorges. “You can’t ask guys to try to bring what he brought. We need to go out there and continue to do our jobs to the best of our ability, whether that means having to play more minutes or eat up more time on the PK. We still need to get the job done.”
There will be some juggling up front, but the extent of those changes probably won’t be known until game time.
Bourque appears ready to go after missing 21 games with a concussion, but Max Pacioretty became a question mark when he left Monday’s practice early. A team spokesman said he was “day-to-day with a lower-body injury.”
The plan is to ease Bourque into the lineup and he’s pencilled in with Jeff Halpern and Travis Moen on the fourth line.
“Right now, I don’t have a real reason to take anyone out of the top three lines,” said Therrien. “Everyone’s been doing excellent work (and Bourque) is going to have to be patient and work on getting back into game shape.”
“It’s been frustrating,” said Bourque. “I’ve had concussions before but they’ve never taken this long. The toughest part was not being part of the team. I didn’t even come to games at the Bell Centre.”
Bourque said he expected to play March 23 against Buffalo but suffered a setback. He subsequently went to Atlanta where he was treated by Dr. Ted Carrick, a concussion specialist whose patients have included Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux.
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