MONTREAL — The Buffalo Sabres have sent Mikhail Grigorenko back to the Quebec Remparts.
And a costly turnover against the Canadiens may have hastened the New Jersey Devils’ decision to return Stefan Matteau to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.
But Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said Alex Galchenyuk is staying in Montreal even if he is fighting his way through an offensive slump.
Therrien said the key for youngsters Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher is the ability to play at least 12 productive minutes a game and they have done that. And, while Galchenyuk has only one assist in his last 10 games, Therrien is happy with his progress. He’s averaged 12:39 of ice time and has three goals and 10 assists.
“He’s playing a mature game,” Therrien said after the Canadiens practised in preparation for Tuesday’s visit from the Buffalo Sabres (7:30 p.m., TSN, RDS, TSN-690 Radio) . “Sometimes he’ll miss a few things, but we’ll sit down with him and show him. He’s part of every power-play meeting and every penalty-kill meeting. We know he’s going to be there and he’s going to be ready.”
Therrien said the 19-year-old is still adjusting to the jump from junior.
“He has a tendency to handle the puck too much and try to make the good play,” said Therrien. “In the NHL, the play is so tight and the opening is so small and you have to see it. You always have to do the percentage play. It’s part of the learning process. You have to accept what the other team is going to give you. When there’s time, you have to make the play and where there isn’t time, you can’t force the play.”
Galchenyuk was a scoring machine with the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League but said he wasn’t overly concerned about the drop in production.
“I’ve never played in the NHL before,” he replied when asked about the slump. “I’m getting chances and sometimes it works and it sometimes it doesn’t. But I’m working hard on both ends of the ice and I know the points will come. You always want to score goals and have assists and things like that, but the team is winning and my job and my line’s job is to ensure that the goalie isn’t scored on.”
Galchenyuk, who is playing with Lars Eller and Gabriel Dumont, has been doing a good job on that front. He has a plus/minus rating of plus-8, the third-best on the team after the injured Brandon Prust (plus-13) and Gallagher (plus-9).
“I feel that I’m better in our zone and I’m learning every game,” said Galchenyuk. “It’s getting tougher with the schedule, but I feel I’m doing pretty good.”
As for that slump, he might want to talk to Colby Armstrong, who scored his first goal of the season in Saturday’s 2-1 win in New Jersey.
“It was a relief,” said Armstrong. “New Jersey plays a tough game and it was good to chip in in a tight game like that. I was getting chances, especially the last five or six games and I wasn’t sure whether to snap or laugh. You keep chipping away and it’s going to come. I’ve been in that position before but, obviously, this is the longest I’ve ever gone.”
The Canadiens are in the thick of a three-way battle with Pittsburgh and Boston for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. On paper, this is an easy week with two home games against the Sabres sandwiched around a trip to Long Island. The Sabres and Islanders are out of the playoffs, but captain Brian Gionta noted that each team has a win over Montreal this season.
“You have look at this as two games against desperate teams,” said Gionta. “There’s so much parity in this league that you can’t take anything for granted.”
There was good news on the medical front, starting with the confirmation that Michael Ryder will return to the lineup after missing one game with an undisclosed injury. He practised Monday on a line with Gionta and Tomas Plekanec.
Rene Bourque (concussion), Brandon Prust (shoulder) and Yannick Weber (lower body) all skated Monday with strength and conditioning coach Pierre Allard.
“They’re progressing and that’s good news,” Therrien said of the trio. Ditto for defenceman Raphael Diaz (concussion) who is working out in the gym while awaiting clearance to skate.
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