BROSSARD, Que. â€” It appears that the Montreal Canadiens plague of injuries has run its course.
After David Desharnais and defencemen Andrei Markov and Greg Pateryn returned in the same game one night earlier, centre Alex Galchenyuk was back at practice on Wednesday.
That left only right-wing Brendan Gallagher still in the infirmary, and he is due back soon from a broken hand.
“The last two months was pretty rough health-wise but we were still able to maintain our quality of play,” said coach Michel Therrien, whose club slogged through the last two months without several starters. “That’s good news for us.
“It’s a big boost. We got some guys back and you could feel the energy and confidence they brought us. Now we’ll get Galchenyuk back, (Jeff) Petry should be fine. Having them back, there’s no doubt that we approach games with a different attitude.”
The Canadiens injury woes began in early December when Galchenyuk (knee), Desharnais (knee) and Pateryn (ankle) went down, soon followed by Markov (groin), forward Andrew Shaw (concussion) and Gallagher.
While the team’s torrid winning pace early in the campaign slowed, they managed to go 12-8-4 since Dec. 12 to keep a safe lead atop their division.
It’s a huge difference from last season, when a late November injury to star goalie Carey Price saw them plummet from first place to missing the playoffs.
“We learned from last year’s adversity,” said Therrien. “That’s important for us.
“We had adversity and I don’t think we reacted the right way. This year we reacted a lot better. Our leaders did a fantastic job to maintain the focus and not get distracted. At the same time we gave young guys an opportunity to show what they can do.”
Perhaps the key discovery was that Phillip Danault, who was thought to be a checking centre, could do a solid job on the first line with captain Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov.
That will let Galchenyuk play his way back to top form on the third unit. Galchenyuk had two goals and two assists in five games when he first returned on Jan. 14, but then he missed three more games with the same injury.
In practice, Galchenyuk skated between Shaw and Desharnais, a centre who has been moved to left wing. That line will see its first action Thursday night in Philadelphia.
Desharnais scored only his fourth goal of the season in Montreal’s 5-2 home win over Buffalo on Tuesday night.
“We’re looking for balance on all our lines,” said Therrien “The best example is the Stanley Cup winner (Pittsburgh) who have Phil Kessel on the third line. They’re tough to play against because of their balance.”
Shaw returned on Jan. 14 after missing 14 games and was pleased to see the team had not gone into a slump.
“It’s unbelievable how we did it,” he said. “It shows the character and depth we have on this team.
“It’s a good thing moving forward. Everyone’s getting healthy and we can get back to what we were doing at the start of the year when we went on that 10 game win streak. Davy’s back scoring goals and sniping. You have chemistry through the whole team now. Everyone’s played with everyone. It can change a game.”
The injuries saw a rash of call-ups from the AHL St. John’s IceCaps, with forwards Michael McCarron, Chris Terry, Nikita Scherbak, Bobby Farnham and, more recently, Sven Andrighetto and Jacob De La Rose all seeing action, as well as defencemen Joel Hanley and Ryan Johnston.
Other youngsters picked up their game, such as Danault, rookie winger Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron.
“The guys that were put in the lineup did a great job of seizing the opportunity and playing well,” said goalie Carey Price. “It’s not easy to come in and have such high expectations thrown on you, but our guys did really well.”
Now they hope to stay healthy.
The win over Buffalo began a string of eight games in 13 days, after which they get their league-mandated five-game break. After that, they have a relatively light final 24 games of the regular season with only a handful of matchups against top teams.
With players coming back, others have to move. Defenceman Zach Redmond was sent down earlier this week and then Montreal acquired rearguard Nikita Nesterov from Tampa Bay, so Mark Barberio was placed on waivers.
Petry, who missed the last game with an illness, is expected to return against Philadelphia.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press