MONTREAL – Goaltender Cristobal Huet is feeling better and could be ready to return from his pulled groin by Saturday.
Huet won’t dress for the Montreal Canadiens game Thursday night against the Flyers, but the fact that he will make the trip to Philadelphia is a sign that he is almost healed.
“There’s some stiffness, but I can extend and do everything on the ice,” Huet said after a full practice on Wednesday. “On the rink, I feel sharp. I have no pain, I feel better every day.”
The French goaltender will make the trip just to get in some extra practice to be ready, he hopes, for a home game Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Coach Guy Carbonneau sounded skeptical about Huet starting against Toronto, a team that has given him fits in the past, but was happy to see he is getting closer to a return.
The 32-year-old has missed four games since pulling his groin during a 5-4 shootout loss to Nashville on Dec. 1.
That gave four straight starts to rookie Carey Price, who struggled to a 1-2-1 record over that span, although he looked sharper in a 3-2 shootout loss Tuesday night to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In the previous game, he was pulled for the first time in his young career in favour of backup Jaroslav Halak for the third period of a 5-1 loss to Carolina.
Price credits the improvement to work with goaltending coach Roland Melanson.
“We were working the last couple of days on a couple of things,” said Price. “Like getting out on the paint.
“They tipped a lot of pucks that hit me because I had that extra six inches. It’s just small, subtle things that can make the difference between four goals against and two.”
Although Huet is preparing to return, the Canadiens added another player to their injury list – defenceman Patrice Brisebois, who injured his right shoulder against the Lightning.
They are already without centre Bryan Smolinski, out six weeks with a knee injury, and Steve Begin, gone at least two weeks with a separated shoulder.
Brisebois is listed as day-to-day and did not make the trip to Philadelphia. His spot will likely be taken by Josh Gorges, who was a healthy scratch the last three games.
It will be a first look at the rough and tumble Flyers for rookie defenceman Ryan O’Byrne, who was called up from AHL Hamilton last week. The Victoria native knows what to expect.
“When we played at the old Spectrum in the AHL last year, their AHL team was the exact same thing – tough guys,” he said. “It’s fun though.
“They’re energetic games. No one’s taking a shift off. They finish their checks. I’m looking forward to it.”
So is defenceman Mike Komisarek, who in the absence of a full-time tough guy on the team, gets called out more often than not when the play gets nasty.
The Canadiens’ best game this season was a 5-2 victory over Philadelphia at the Bell Centre on Nov. 1, when they outshot the Flyers 41-19. It was a wild contest as fans booed Philadelphia star Daniel Briere for turning down Montreal’s contract offer last summer.
The game also saw a mass skirmish after Mike Richards knocked Alex Kovalev woozy with a shoulder to the jaw and there was a third-period fight between Tom Kostopoulos and Flyers tough guy Ben Eager.
Few expect any Lady Byng Trophy votes to be influenced in this meeting, either.
“I love those games,” said the six-foot-four Komisarek. “I love playing against the bigger guys.
“It’s going to be a challenge. We’ve got to match up with them. If we feel them leaning against us, we’ve got to push back.”
Although neither is a fighter by nature, the Canadiens did get bigger last week when six-foot-five O’Byrne and six-foot-two Maxim Lapierre were called up from Hamilton.
“I guess there’s always question marks about whether we can play that type of game,” added Komisarek. “They say we’re a smaller team, but if you look at average heights and weights, we’re right there with them.
“We’ve got some big guys and we can play that way too. It’s a mentality more than anything. Before the game, if you tell yourself, ‘I’m going to win all my battles,’ you’ll do it. Everyone talks about the big bad Flyers, but we know how we have to play.”