TORONTO – Getting healthy has helped the Montreal Canadiens climb up the Eastern Conference standings, and there’s more help on the way.
The Habs had their six-game winning streak snapped by a 3-2 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, but have still managed to pick up at least a point in their last seven games and are 7-1-1 since the Olympic break.
Montreal is still without leading goal-scorer Mike Cammalleri, who’s out with a knee injury, and power-play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron, who’s battling a lower-body ailment. Both could return as soon as Monday, when the Canadiens host the Ottawa Senators, a team they’re currently tied with for fifth in the East.
Habs left winger Benoit Pouliot said the team still has designs on a division title and believes Montreal can catch the Northeast-leading Buffalo Sabres, a team they trail by seven points but face twice more, including next Wednesday in Buffalo.
“We’re trying to reach, at least, Buffalo,” Pouliot said. “They’re up there, but we have two games against them and we’ll just try to catch up to them. You never know what can happen.
“We’ve just got to keep getting points like we did again tonight. We showed some character at the end, we came back, tied the game. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get another point, but it’s still positive stuff and good for us.”
The return of Cammalleri and Bergeron should help Montreal’s pursuit, though the team is used to playing without some of its top players. Star defenceman Andrei Markov sliced a tendon in his left ankle during the first game of the season and didn’t return until late December, while first-line right winger Brian Gionta was out 21 games with a bad foot and right winger Andrei Kostitsyn also missed 20 games with a knee injury.
Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said the improved health of his team has helped Montreal get in gear of late.
“No doubt having some people back from injury is a factor and playing more effectively as well,” Martin said.
Getting Bergeron and Cammalleri back will mean good things for the Canadiens’ power play, which is already ranked second in the league behind only the Washington Capitals.
“Bergi, that’s his main thing, he’s a power play guy, he’s got the hardest shot on the team for sure,” Pouliot said. “We’re missing big parts of our lineup.”
With important divisional games on tap against Ottawa and Buffalo, Gionta – who had both his team’s goals against Toronto, including one with the man advantage – said the Habs can’t be waiting around for help to arrive and stressed whoever is on the ice has to make things happen when the team is on the power play.
“Obviously they’re big parts of the power play, but we’ve been good without them,” said Gionta of Bergeron and Cammalleri. “It’s just a matter of when we need it, we’ve got to be more on top of it. We’ve got to take advantage when we have those opportunities when the game is on the line or we’re behind.”