MONTREAL — There’s an interesting subplot to Thursday’s game between the Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., TSN-HABS, RDS, TSN Radio 690).
The opposing goaltenders — the Canadiens’ Carey Price and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo — will be teammates next week when the Canadian Olympic team assembles in Sochi and there’s an ongoing debate over which one will emerge as No. 1.
Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said this week that the two goaltenders will each get a chance in the preliminary round before he makes a decision on who will get the bulk of the work in the medal round.
“It’s not something I’m thinking about and the game tomorrow won’t have any bearing on what happens in Sochi,” Price said Wednesday after the Canadiens held an upbeat practice in Brossard. “I’m concentrating on these last two games (the Canadiens play in Carolina Saturday) and I’ll start thinking about Sochi when I get there.”
Price may be playing his best hockey of the season after he and his teammates struggled at both ends of the ice in January. Tuesday’s shutout was Price’s fourth of the season and his second in the last four games. He has allowed only three goals in regulation over that span.
“I’m very happy with the way we’ve been playing defence,” coach Michel Therrien said. ”We’ve only allowed five goals in the last five games and we only have one regulation loss.”
Therrien also downplayed the Sochi goaltending situation.
“The important thing about tomorrow’s game is that you have two teams that are battling to make the playoffs,” the coach said.
The Canadiens are faring a bit better in that regard. With the win Tuesday, Montreal has climbed back into third place in the Atlantic Division and has the seventh-best goals-against average in the National Hockey League. The Canucks are clinging to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference after suffering a 3-1 loss in Boston Tuesday, their fifth loss in a row.
That’s the glass-half-full view of the Canadiens.
If you look at the Canadiens’ offence the glass is less than half-full. Twenty-three teams score more than the Canadiens, and if you look at the even-strength numbers they are more depressing.
Therrien said he wasn’t concerned about the lack of offence. He trotted out the old “we-had-chances” line and said the offence would come.
Tuesday’s game was basically a one-goal affair with David Desharnais adding an empty-netter on a power play. It was good to see Rene Bourque going to the net on the first goal, but when a shot goes in off your shin pad there’s a fair element of luck involved.
As for that power-play goal, it was the first one the Bell Centre fans have seen from the Canadiens this year. The last one came on Dec. 17, 2013.
The most pleasant surprise Tuesday was the play of the fourth line of Ryan White, rookie Michael Bournival and newcomer Dale Weise, who was an instant fit before he had his first full practice with the team. The Canadiens acquired Weise from the Vancouver Canucks on Monday in exchange for defenceman Raphael Diaz.
White had missed 14 games with a strained pectoral muscle and made up for lost time as he fired a game-high six shots on net. The line produced nine of the Canadiens’ 27 shots and was rewarded with 13 minutes of ice time.
“Ryan White’s line played a heck of a game, there’s no doubt about that,” Therrien said. “They brought the energy that we were looking for. They earned their ice time and spent a lot of time in the offensive zone, which is a big plus.”
The ice time was welcomed by Weise.
“We had four or five shifts in the first period and that would have been a full game for me in Vancouver,” he said.
Weise resisted an opportunity to take a shot at Canucks coach John Tortorella, but noted: “It’s good to play for a coach who has confidence in you.”
Douglas Murray and Max Pacioretty took therapy days Wednesday, but will play against Vancouver. Travis Moen is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury and won’t be available Thursday night.
The Canucks had an optional workout in Brossard Wednesday. They were supposed to stay in Boston Tuesday, but left after the game because they were concerned about snow in Boston.
For more pregame Canadiens-Canucks news and a video report from Wednesday’s practice, go to hockeyinsideout.com, where Mike Boone also has his live blog during every game.
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