The Canadiens cancelled practice Friday after five or six players called in sick. Some had been throwing up on the return flight from a 5-1 loss the night before in Washington. It hit at a difficult moment, disrupting preparations for afternoon games at home Saturday against the New York Rangers (3 p.m. ET) and Sunday against the New Jersey Devils ( 3 p.m. ET).
“It changed all our plans,” coach Guy Carbonneau said. “We wanted to practise because we have these two games.
“It’s something we’ll have to deal with. Every team goes through it.”
A team spokesman named five players who stayed home – defencemen Sheldon Souray, Craig Rivet and Mike Komisarek and forwards Michael Ryder and Garth Murray – but some players said six of their teammates were sick.
“Hopefully they can come back on Saturday,” said team captain Saku Koivu.
The club called up forwards Maxim Lapierre and Mikhail Grabovski from the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs to help fill the void.
Carbonneau said he would have the players on the ice for a short skate Saturday morning to see which are able to play. He said the team may have to call in help from the minors.
Koivu said the team is taking precautions to stop the spread of the virus: not sharing water bottles, washing hands frequently and keeping everything clean in the dressing room.
But he said the key measure was keeping the sick players home.
The flu bug came with the Canadiens in a lull, with only two wins in their last six games, but it may partly explain the team’s listless performance in Washington.
“Some guys were vomiting during the game and other guys got the flu right after,” said Koivu. “Probably one reason we didn’t play well was because some guys didn’t feel their best.”
“Everyone was upset with the kind of game we played, but now that we know five or six guys are sick, we know there must have been some (who were sick),” he said. “I know there were at least two.”
“We were missing some second effort. We were second on the puck a lot. That might have been a reason.”
But that only explains one loss and he said he Canadiens still have to pick up their game. They went 1-3 on a road trip over the Christmas period and thought they were back on track after a 5-2 win at home Tuesday over Tampa Bay.
Then they were smoked by a Capitals team that was on a five-game losing streak.
“In the last 10 days, we’re not as sharp as we were earlier,” he said. “Maybe it’s the holidays, guys were tired a bit, the flu’s going around, but these are two big games and we’ve got to ready.”
Or, as winger Chris Higgins quipped: “If we keep playing the way we are, we’ll be puking in practice.”
At least both goaltenders looked healthy, and David Aebischer is to start on Saturday, while Cristobal Huet will face the Devils on Sunday.
Aebischer relieved Huet after Washington took a 4-1 lead at 8:48 of the second period. Huet, who shares the league’s best save percentage at .927 with Nashville’s Chris Mason, started nine of the last 10 games.
“I’m happy to play again and show what I can do,” said Aebischer. “I’m going to have to stop the puck and give the team a chance to win.”
“It doesn’t matter if the team is winning or maybe not (winning) much lately, my job doesn’t change.”
Huet bumped Aebischer to back-up duty with a spectacular November, when he went 7-2, while his Swiss rival struggled. Of late, wins have been harder to find, but Huet doesn’t feel he has been overworked.
“It was just a game (in Washington that) didn’t work out like I wanted – that’s all,” he said.
It will be Montreal’s first of four meetings this season with Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and the attack-happy Rangers, a team that scores a lot but struggles on defence.
The Devils are the opposite, bringing the best defence, but the second-lowest goals scored in the conference. New Jersey is 2-0 against Montreal this season and its goalie, Martin Brodeur, always plays his best, while visiting his hometown.
The Canadiens play a pair of afternoon home games every Super Bowl weekend and will again this season on Feb. 3 and Feb. 4. They chose to do it again this weekend because it is popular with fans, particularly those who bring their children to the games.
Koivu, who was held off the scoresheet in Washington, still needs one point for 500 in his career.