BROSSARD, Que. – Michael Cammalleri’s throat was feeling better Friday and now he just needs to nurse his scoring touch back to full health.
Cammalleri left the Montreal Canadiens victory over Boston in the second period a week ago and then missed two games with what turned out to be flu symptoms and strep throat.
He is expected back Saturday night when the Canadiens play host to the Rangers, who they beat 2-1 in New York with Cammalleri out of the lineup on Tuesday.
But just as he returned, winger Max Pacioretty missed practice with flu symptoms and is questionable to start against the Rangers.
”I wasn’t feeling great even the game before, but what scared me was that I didn’t know what was going on because my throat didn’t kick in until after the game that night,” Cammalleri said. ”After the game the strep throat hit me and I realized it.
”It felt like I was going to pass out every time I got my heartrate up. High antibiotics. You try to knock out the virus. With Dr. (David) Mulder, we did it, even though he was giving me horse pills or something like that.”
The Canadiens, seventh in the NHL eastern Conference at 24-17-3, can use a top sniper back in the lineup, even though Cammalleri had gone a season-high nine games without a goal before the illness.
None of the Canadiens are especially hot of late. The team has not scored more than three goals in a game in its last 12 outings and has fallen to 27th in the league in goals scored.
They are coming off a 5-2 loss at home to the Pittsburgh Penguins in which their league-best penalty killing units gave up four goals on six chances and dropped into a tie for second best behind Pittsburgh.
That may be why coach Jacques Martin looked to be in a no-nonsense mood at practice, shouting orders and taking some players aside afterward for one-on-one chats on the ice. They included defencemen Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik, who were on for all four Pittsburgh power play goals, and forward Benoit Pouliot, who took three minor penalties.
”He was on his toes today for sure,” said Cammalleri. ”He let me have it a few times and I thought I made good plays. But I think it’s just that sense of urgency and where we are in the season. We have to tighten up a few things and he was just conveying that message.”
Spacek knew the question was coming and answered with a wide smile.
”I don’t know what (Martin) had for breakfast today; I should find out,” Spacek said. ”It wasn’t a good performance for us. Everyone was upset. He just wanted to make sure everyone’s on the same page.”
Martin said more serious talks are generally not held in plain view at practice, such as the chat he had later when struggling winger Andrei Kostitsyn came to see him. Kostitsyn has not scored in nine games and has been dropped to a checking line with Jeff Halpern and Travis Moen.
”We talked about his performance and what I expect from him,” said Martin. ”He had a good performance with Halpern and Moen. We talked about what he needs to do to get more ice time.”
With Pacioretty out, Tom Pyatt moved into his spot on left wing with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Cammalleri skated with Lars Eller and centre Tomas Plekanec.
Martin confirmed that Carey Price will start in goal, even though backup Alex Auld was in the net for the win in New York. Auld has not lost in regulation time in six career games against the Rangers.
When asked if it bothered him that none of his five starts this season has been at the Bell Centre, Auld replied with an empathic ”no.”
Defenceman Andrei Markov was on hand and said his recovery from repairs to his torn ACL ligament were going well.
Markov, arguably the Canadiens best player, returned Oct. 30 from a torn ACL suffered during the playoffs and played only seven games before tearing it again.
”The second time they used a different technique, they took a tendon from another spot, but it was pretty much the same as last time,” he said.
The veteran is due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and it will be interesting to see if his injuries woes in recent seasons have a negative impact on the offers he receives.
Unlike fellow rearguard Josh Gorges, who is also out for the season with a torn ACL and who will be a restricted free agent, Markov said he has not had talks yet with general manager Pierre Gauthier about his future in Montreal.
”I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” said Markov. ”I’d like to stay here as long as I can.
”I always said I like this city, I like this team. We’ll see what happens in the summer, or maybe it will come up next month. I don’t know.”