BROSSARD, Que. – Injuries are starting to pile up for the Montreal Canadiens.
Captain Saku Koivu was the latest to go down with a “lower-body” injury, believed to be either a foot or an ankle problem, in the second period of a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.
That followed injuries during a win over Calgary on Tuesday night to winger Christopher Higgins (shoulder) and defenceman Mathieu Dandenault (broken left arm).
Enforcer Georges Laraque is also on the limp with a lower-body injury, while defenceman Mike Komisarek has been sidelined since mid-November with a shoulder injury.
And on Friday, goaltender Carey Price was absent with flu, which will give Jaroslav Halak his third straight start in goal when the Canadiens play host to the Washington Capitals on Saturday night. Veteran Marc Denis of AHL Hamilton has been called up and is on standby in case Price cannot dress for the game.
“We were pretty lucky for the last two years with injuries and now it’s one after the other,” defenceman Francis Bouillon said at the team’s new suburban practice facility. “Losing Saku is tough, but we’ve said since training camp that we have depth and now we have to prove it.”
Centre Ben Maxwell was also summoned from Hamilton and will make his NHL regular-season debut in Koivu’s spot at centre between Andrei Kostitsyn and recent call-up Matt D’Agostini.
The 20-year-old Maxwell has eight goals and 12 assists in 26 games for the Bulldogs this season. The Vancouver native was Montreal’s second-round pick in 2006.
Having their key players stay healthy was one reason Montreal was able to finish first in the NHL Eastern Conference last season. Scoring leader Alex Kovalev, top defenceman Andrei Markov and Higgins didn’t miss a game, while Koivu and defence veteran Roman Hamrlik missed five each, Andrei Kostitsyn four and Tomas Plekanec only one.
Coach Guy Carbonneau is hoping some of last season’s top performers who have been struggling will now raise their level of play.
It starts with Kovalev, who has been playing better of late with six assists in his last five games, but whose 18-game goal-less drought is only one short of his career worst.
Plekanec, a 29-goal scorer last season, has only six goals in 28 games and just one point in his last seven games.
“We need more from some guys,” said Carbonneau. “I know Alex is not worried about his streak, but at one point I hope he’s going to start scoring because with the injuries we have now, our best players are going to have to be our best players every game.”
He said Koivu’s injury does not appear to be as bad as originally feared, although they are awaiting results of an MRI exam. What is certain is that the playmaking centre will not play Saturday or Tuesday night in Carolina.
“After that, we’ll see how he reacts to treatments,” the coach said.
Higgins, who has an arm in a sling, is scheduled to have an MRI on Saturday and will be out at least a week and probably longer.
Dandenault, whose arm was in a cast, is gone for six to eight weeks.
The veteran was only recently switched back from forward to his favoured position on defence last week with Komisarek out and Ryan O’Byrne struggling. He was playing his best hockey in recent memory.
But in the second period against the Flames, he was hit awkwardly along the boards by Dustin Boyd and his left arm went limp. He said it was broken in three places just above the wrist and three hairline fractures also were detected. A steel plate was inserted to help his recovery.
“On the play, I thought it was an icing, so that’s why I turned to put myself between him and the puck,” said Dandenault. “He didn’t hit me hard, but it was a freak accident.
“My wrist got jammed and I knew something was wrong.”
Dandenault got up and skated to his position in front of the net for a long moment before Montreal got possession of the puck and the whistle blew so he could get off the ice.
“I was thinking ‘someone touch the puck, please,’ Dandenault said with a laugh. “When I got to the front of the net I didn’t know what I was doing.
“I had no stick, one glove. I wasn’t much help, but the last thing I wanted was to get a minus and a broken arm at the same time.”
An encouraging sign for the Canadiens is that Komisarek, who resumed skating this week, took part in a full practice for the first time since his injury, although he was skating as a forward. He said he should be ready to return by the end of next week.
“I don’t think I’m cleared for contact, but I’m not far away,” said the big defenceman who plays on Montreal’s top pair with Markov.
Carbonneau spent about 10 minutes talking to his players on the ice during practice, but it likely was less about injuries and more about their weak effort against the NHL’s last-place team the night before.
He had told his team to check Lightning stars Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier closely and then saw the Tampa forwards pick up two points apiece.
Now the same team has to try to stop Capitals’ scoring sensation Alexander Ovechkin.
“Yeah, we circled No. 8 (Ovechkin), like we circled No. 26 (St. Louis) and No. 4 (Lecavalier),” said Carbonneau. “Maybe we’ll put a double circle.”
The injuries will also be a trial for Hamilton, where captain Kyle Chipchura is injured and veteran defenceman Dan Jancevski, who is Dallas property, was called up this week by the Stars.