MONTREAL – Daniel Briere felt some jitters playing his first game as a Montreal Canadien and he expects more when he goes up against his former team, the Philadelphia Flyers.
The 35-year-old was bought out in June after seven seasons in Philadelphia, who were in a salary cap crunch, and signed a two-year, US$8-million contract with the Canadiens.
He will be on right wing on Montreal’s first line when the Canadiens play host to the Flyers on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
“I’m happy that it’s early in the season and that the first one (against the Flyers) is at home,” Briere said Friday. “It makes it easier.
“For me, it’s not a normal game. You’re facing your ex-teammates, all your friends, so it will be a little tougher.”
Briere’s line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty was quiet as the Canadiens opened the season with a fight-filled 4-3 loss at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
They go into their second game with doubts about Pacioretty, who jammed his left wrist in the first period but was able to return for the start of the second. Coach Michel Therrien said Pacioretty would be re-evaluated Saturday morning to see if he is fit to play.
Their line was Montreal’s best through training camp and the pre-season games, but it was the third line of Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher that produced all three goals against the Leafs.
Ryan White is expected to move onto the fourth line in place of enforcer George Parros, who suffered a concussion when his head slammed into the ice during a fight with Toronto’s Colton Orr. Parros is out indefinitely, but Therrien spoke to him Friday morning and said he seems to be in good spirits.
“He looks good. He’s got a little bit of a headache, but it’s not like it’s a migraine,” said Therrien, who added with a laugh that wondered if Parros “feels like a coach, because sometimes we wake up with Tylenol too.
“But it’s nothing major. It was nice to see him around with the boys.”
It won’t be the first time Briere has to play a former team. He spent parts of his first six seasons with Phoenix, then spent four campaigns with Buffalo before spurning Montreal to sign with the Flyers in 2007.
The difference is that, rather than choosing to leave, Briere was made a compliance buy-out by the Flyers. Philadelphia replaced him by signing Vincent Lecavalier, who had been bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Both are now playing for considerably less cost to their current teams, while making buy-out money from their former clubs.
For Briere, there are no hard feelings.
“There’s no extra friction, they treated me with a lot of class,” he said. “It’s part of the game.
“They were within their rights. On my side, it turned out really well. I get to play for my childhood team. I’m not sure it turns out so great for every player, but you’ve got to move on.
“I wish the Flyers and Vinny the best, but it worked out well for me too, so I can’t complain about it.”
Another test will come when the Canadiens visit Philadelphia on Dec. 12.
Briere said the first period will be toughest to play against his former teammates, but after that it should settle down.
Therrien expects the same.
“It’s two games for Daniel—first game with the Canadiens and now against his old team,” said the coach. “It’s important he doesn’t try to do too much. Just be himself. He has experience at this from past teams he’s played for, so that should help.”
It will also be a special night for centre Tomas Plekanec, who will reach 600 games played—all with Montreal.
The 30-year-old has 156 goals and 240 assists as a Canadien, and is regarded as the team’s top two-way forward.
“He’s responsible. He’s huge on our penalty kill and a lot of times he’s matched up against the top lines and he’s still expected to create offence,” said Plekanec’s linemate Brian Gionta. “He’s just an all-around two-way player.”
Note: When asked about Patrick Roy’s blow-up in his first game as coach of the Colorado Avalanche, Therrien smiled and said: “What I noticed was that the barrier between the benches wasn’t solid. That’s what I remember.”