Shea Weber ‘not at 100 per cent’ as Canadiens embark on crucial stretch


Montreal Canadiens defenceman Shea Weber (6) is checked into the boards by Calgary Flames left wing Micheal Ferland (79) on Thursday, December 7, 2017 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

BROSSARD, Que. — The Montreal Canadiens are about to embark on what could be considered the toughest portion of their remaining schedule, and they’re going to have to do so with one of their best players operating at a deficit.

On Tuesday, following two days off for the Canadiens, defenceman Shea Weber opted for treatments instead of a practice session with his teammates. He hasn’t practised in nearly two weeks since returning from a lower-body injury that kept him out of six games from Nov. 18-Dec. 2.

On Saturday, in a 6-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers, Weber finished minus-3 and played just three seconds more than his season-low in ice time of 21:09.

When Weber was asked about how he felt following the loss to Edmonton, he said, "Good enough to play."

But with the Canadiens welcoming the 16-9-4 Devils Thursday before taking off on a seven-game road trip that brings them through Ottawa for the 2017 Scotiabank NHL100 Classic, through western Canada for games against the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers and finishes with games against the Carolina Hurricanes, the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers, they don’t just need Weber playing; they need him playing at his best.

"It’s obvious enough he’s not at 100 per cent," said Canadiens coach Claude Julien, following the team’s practice on Tuesday. "But he’s a warrior who’s able to play in spite of this injury, and this week, with four days in between games, it gives him a better chance to better recuperate."

Even if that ends up being the case and Weber gets closer to health, jumping into games without practice is an unenviable task — especially when you’re depended on for over 25 minutes a night and in all situations.

"It’s hard getting back from injury to begin with," said Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin, who missed two games recently with a lower-body injury and another due to flu. "When you don’t skate or practice for a couple of days, you feel rusty and your legs feel heavy. It’s definitely harder on the body to just jump back into games."

It’ll be hard for Weber, regardless, jumping into games that mean as much to Montreal’s playoff hopes as the coming ones do.

At 13-14-4, the Canadiens are currently five points out of the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference, and they’re trailing the Boston Bruins—who have four games in hand—by two points for third place in the Atlantic Division.

"Forget the whole road trip, the next five games are very important for us before Christmas," said Canadiens centre Phillip Danault. "It’s crucial, I would say. We know everybody’s battling, Boston’s got four games in hand on us and everything is tight. These five games are what’s going to separate the playoff teams from the non-playoff teams."

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The good news for the Canadiens is that they’re approaching this pivotal task with a relatively healthy roster outside of Weber. Drouin says he’s feeling more like himself after regaining some of the weight he lost while he was sick and getting re-acclimated to the pace of play following games against the Flames and Oilers.

Forward Artturi Lehkonen (lower body) and goaltender Al Montoya (concussion) have begun to take meaningful steps toward recovery, with the former having skated on his own nearly every day over the past week after missing the team’s last 13 games and the latter having resumed skating at the end of last week after missing 17.

The developments haven’t been as positive for forward Ales Hemsky, who was sidelined by a concussion in the first period of Montreal’s 6-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 20 and has only taken part in one solo skating session since.

As for Weber, a return to practice isn’t out of the question between now and Thursday’s game against the Devils. It’s just highly unlikely.

"If think these four days are critical for him to get better," said Julien. "We’re trying to help him recover as best we can right now."

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