BROSSARD, Que. – George Parros will get a taste of the Canadiens-Leafs rivalry right off the bat.
The veteran enforcer who joined Montreal this summer has been declared fit to play in the NHL season opener against Toronto on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
With Leafs tough guy Frazer McLaren out with a broken finger, some are making wagers on how long it will take Parros to tangle with one of Toronto’s other enforcers, like Colton Orr.
“It’s a big game and I’m looking forward to it,” Parros said Monday. “I had no pre-season games, but you’ve got to jump in at some point.
“It’s a source of pride for me to be back on time. And given the nature of the game—the first game at home against a rival like that—I think it’s going to be fun.”
Parros had off-season shoulder surgery and wasn’t certain to be ready, but rehab went better than expected.
Montreal hopes the six-foot-five right winger will even out the imbalance in size and grit the Canadiens, a smaller team that thrives on quickness, have endured against some teams in recent years.
Coach Michel Therrien did not confirm his lineup, but Parros skated on the fourth line in practice with centre Brandon Prust and Travis Moen, while forwards Ryan White and Michael Bournival looked like they would sit out.
The off-season saw Montreal add three veterans—Parros, big defenceman Douglas Murray and scoring winger Danny Briere.
Murray will not make his Canadiens debut. Therrien said the former San Jose Shark suffered an upper body injury in practice this week and will be out four-to-six weeks.
His spot will be taken by six-foot-seven youngster Jarred Tinordi, who had an excellent camp. He skated on the third pair with Francis Bouillon.
Defenceman P.K. Subban likes what he has seen of Tinordi, who got some regular season action and stayed on for the playoffs last season while filling in for Alexei Emelin, who will be out until December after ACL surgery.
“Tinner’s a big guy and he plays physical and mean,” said Subban. “I enjoy watching him hit guys and fight guys and all that fun stuff.
“He’s going to be a very impactful player for our team. It’ll be interesting to see what he looks like in a couple of years. If he continues to improve he’ll be a really good hockey player.”
Briere will make his Montreal debut on right wing on the top line with centre David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty.
The Leafs will be without one of their key newcomers, David Clarkson, who is serving a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench during a pre-season brawl.
Newcomers that may be in the lineup include defenceman Paul Ranger and forwards Dave Bolland, Mason Raymond and Carter Ashton.
Coach Randy Carlyle has yet to decide whether James Reimer or new addition Jonathan Bernier will start in goal.
Carlyle is aware the Canadiens have added size, but still sees their strengths as speed and a quick transition game.
“They’ve got a well-rounded lineup, they’ve got speed, they’ve got a world-class goaltender in Carey Price,” he said. “They went out and added more competitiveness to their mix. They’ve got a tough guy now in George Parros, a big, rugged defenceman in Murray.
“Montreal’s a transition team, and if you turn the puck over, you’re going to be playing in your own zone all night. They rely specifically on their skill-set and their speed through the neutral ice to attack, and if we turn the puck over it’s going to be a long night.”
Parros was a welcome addition for many of the Canadiens speedy forwards, but centre Lars Eller said the team is still built on moving the puck quickly.
“We have an asset we didn’t have before—a big guy who can drop the gloves and be intimidating,” said Eller. “That’s something we haven’t had a lot before.
“But I still think our identity is speed and quickness. We can’t forget that.”
The Leafs are not all size and physicality. They can also burn teams with speed.
At least that’s what Carlyle hopes to see.
“I’d like to see a team that’s going to be a strong, forechecking hockey club,” he said. “We’re a skating team, and we have to skate, but we have to do some things that are going to allow us to skate.
“We have to execute to a higher level than we have in the pre-season at puck recoveries and transitioning the puck out of our defensive zone through the neutral ice to allow us to get in and be a skating team. We’re a hockey club that has to skate, and if we’re turning the puck, usually we’re skating in our own zone instead of the opposition’s zone.”
Both teams made the playoffs last season, with Toronto ending a seven-year drought and Montreal rebounding from 15th in the Eastern Conference to second during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.
This season, most pundits see both in the mix for the final post-season berths in their newly realigned division, or perhaps one of the conference’s two wildcard spots.
Both the Leafs and Canadiens will want to show the other who’s the favourite in the opener.
“It’s a good test right away,” said Prust. “They’ve got a point to prove and we’ve got a point to prove.
“It should be fun.”
—With files from Stephen Whyno