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Minor injuries have Canadiens veterans limping in training camp

MONTREAL - They are only pulled groins or sore hips, feet and hands, but the injuries are beginning to add up for the Montreal Canadiens.

On Thursday, there were 10 veterans suffering some sort of minor ailment in training camp, but coach Guy Carbonneau isn't losing any sleep over them just yet.

Captain Saku Koivu hasn't played in the pre-season after taking a shot on the foot while training in Finland before camp.

Guillaume Latendresse and newly acquired Robert Lang have sore hips, while another newcomer, winger Alex Tanguay, missed practice on Thursday with a hip flexor.

Sore groins are bothering Christopher Higgins, Roman Hamrlik, Georges Laraque, Patrice Brisebois and Alex Kovalev, although he is expected to be in the lineup for a pre-season game Friday night against the visiting Ottawa Senators.

And Steve Begin has a sore hand from an exhibition game fight, but he says he's ready to go.

"It's frustrating because I'd like to have some of those guys in the lineup just to get them going for the season," said Carbonneau. "But most of these injuries are groins and hips.

"I look at St. Louis and they have a kid (Erik Johnson) who just tore his ACL (and MCL). None of these injuries are like that. I'm not worried now. I know these guys are professionals. If we were in the playoffs, they'd be in the lineup. But we'll be patient with them and make sure that once we start the season, these things don't recur."

It has been an unusual camp for all 30 NHL teams this season because they had only two or three of practices before pre-season games began. That could be at the root of the pulled groins as players push too hard, too quickly.

Carbonneau is loathe to pick a single reason for the run of ailments, although he said bad luck certainly played a part. Most of the players had been skating on their own or in groups at least two or three weeks before training camp began.

There is also the soft or substandard ice on some of the rinks teams have practised and played on in the pre-season.

"The competition is there, and there's the condition of the ice, which deteriorates more quickly because it's warmer," he added. "I've always said that the skates now are too rigid. They don't have the same flexibility. There's a lot of things that come into play."

The injuries have forced adjustments to the lineups for pre-season games, with more young players getting into the action.

For the game against Ottawa, Kovalev finds himself back on his successful line from last season with centre Tomas Plekanec and left winger Andrei Kostitsyn.

The other lines are: Max Pacioretty, Ben Maxwell and Sergei Kostitsyn; Gregory Stewart, David Desharnais and Matt d'Agostini; and Begin with Maxim Lapierre and Tom Kostopoulos.

The defence has Andrei Markov, Ryan O'Byrne, Josh Gorges, P.K. Subban, Alex Henry and Yannick Weber.

Jaroslav Halak sat out a scheduled third-period appearance against Buffalo on Tuesday after taking a Lapierre shot off the collarbone during warm-up. He is to start the game, with veteran Marc Denis as backup in goal.

"It was just a bruise," said Halak.

A more serious injury befell defenceman Mathieu Carle early in a 3-2 exhibition win on Wednesday night in Detroit when he was caught with his head down and knocked unconscious by a check from Tomas Kopecky.

Carbonneau said it would take two or three days to get a full assessment of how long Carle would be out of action. He said it was encouraging that Carle was able to make the flight back to Montreal because those who suffer serious concussions are discouraged from flying.

He saw nothing wrong with the hit.

"It's tough sometimes to ask a kid not to hit to the head when the player who just made a pass is bent down a bit," he said. "A couple of inches left or right and he would have missed him.

"He wasn't trying to gain speed. He was just coming across the ice and he finished his check."

The 21-year-old Carle is expected to start a second season with AHL Hamilton, but there are hopes he could be called up to Montreal during the year.

When Carle went down, it gave more ice time to Subban, a junior defenceman who impressed the NHL coach with some solid play.

"I didn't expect that from him," said Carbonneau. "It was his first training camp.

"I knew he was nervous. There was nothing during the practices that showed me what he was able to do. We had him killing penalties and he told us after that he's never killed penalties before. It was a good way to start against the Detroit Red Wings."

Koivu skated on his own before practice. He is expected back before the regular season begins.


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