BROSSARD, Que.— Credit Cedric Paquette with the understatement of the year.
When the Montreal Canadiens centreman was asked on Monday about Carey Price returning to the team this week after 30 days in the NHL/NHLPA’s player assistance program, he responded, “We were in need of some good news.”
It’s been nothing but bad since Price left in early October.
The Canadiens have lost 10 of 13 games without him, bumps and bruises have multiplied, and frustration has boiled over.
But the mood around the Canadiens was noticeably more upbeat at the very mention of Price on Monday.
He was back at their practice facility Sunday to undergo tests and meet with the team’s training staff. He’ll be around his teammates on Tuesday and will, at some point prior to the team’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, meet with the coaching staff to map out a plan for his return to play.
But even if Price won’t step on the ice until that plan has been formulated, the Canadiens believe his presence alone could make a considerable difference.
“He’s a leader that we’re missing enormously around our team on and off the ice,” said Paquette. “It’s going to be good for us just to have him around us.”
Two of Price’s best friends on the Canadiens, Brendan Gallagher and Jeff Petry, agreed.
They spoke about how comforting it was to them that he was only gone for the minimum 30-day requirement of the program and that he’s returned to his family and would soon be back in the team’s entourage. They expressed their excitement to catch up with Price and they talked about the calming influence he could have on their group.
But Gallagher and Petry also talked about the need to help and support Price in his return, and that was essential to include in this conversation because this is about what they can do for him as much as it what he can for them.
“Like we talked about when he first left our group, we were happy for him that he was going to be able to first get the help that he needed,” said Gallagher, “and now that he’s back, it’s doing what we can do to help him.”
The Canadiens can start by banding together, by finding more cohesion on the ice and committing more to their system.
They need to generate better results immediately and ease the pressure Price will naturally be under as the team’s best player and its most influential leader.
Equally important is what Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme said on Monday about no one expecting Price to come in and put the whole team on his back.
“We’re going to do it together,” he said. “The day Carey’s in the lineup, he won’t be out there all by himself. We want to do it together. We’ll have an extra player, an important player, but we need to do it all together either way.”
As for when that day will come, Ducharme said the training staff was encouraged by Price’s progress in his recovery from off-season knee surgery, which was obviously impeded by his leave from the team and not being able to do the on-ice work that goes into returning to playing shape.
We asked Ducharme if he had assurances Price wanted to resume playing as soon as possible rather than take some more time with his family before fully immersing himself in the team’s activities, and his response was also encouraging.
“Yeah, he wants to come back and play,” Ducharme said. “But there’s other things to manage. We talked about the injury he was coming back from, getting back in playing shape, too. So, there’s many steps to be taken. But he wants to play, he wants to be part of our group, he wants to help out.”
Gallagher said he spoke with Price a bit on Sunday, and it was clear he came away from that conversation having drawn the same conclusion.
“I think he’s going to come back excited,” Gallagher said. “Like anyone, he’s going to be excited to get back to the rink when you’ve been away for long stretches at a time, and I’m super excited for him to be able to spend some time with his family and just get back to who he is and what he’s always done. We’re looking forward to it as a group, for sure.”
Updates from the infirmary
Joel Edmundson was back on the ice on Monday, continuing his rehab from a mysterious injury that’s plagued him since the start of training camp.
After a few false starts for the big defenceman between then and now—Edmundson began skating and had to stop on multiple occasions due to setbacks—Ducharme updated that things are progressing well and that he remains on target for a return later this month.
The coach also said that, following a conditioning stint with the Laval Rocket, Mattias Norlinder will likely make his NHL debut before the end of the week.
The plan for the Swedish defenceman, who suffered an upper-body injury early in training camp, is to “see what he can do at this level,” according to Ducharme.
It’s likely Norlinder will return to the Frolunda hockey club shortly after, but at least he’ll get a taste of what it’s like playing in the NHL before doing so.
Up front, Paul Byron skated again on Monday and continues to rehab from off-season hip surgery. He remains on target to return to play in late December or early January.
Jonathan Drouin, who was struck in the head by a puck early in last Tuesday’s win over the Detroit Red Wings, could be back as early as this Tuesday, when the Kings visit the Bell Centre.
But even if Ducharme confirmed Drouin continues to be clear of concussion symptoms, the player missed practice again after not skating all weekend and will be a game-time decision.
Christian Dvorak is “banged up,” as Paquette put it. He also missed practice on Monday and is questionable for Tuesday’s game.