October 12, 2016 - 12:51 PM
BROSSARD, Que. - With Carey Price nursing a flu, Al Montoya will start in the Montreal Canadiens net a lot sooner than he expected.
A handful of other players will also be making their Canadiens debuts, including top defenceman Shea Weber, but putting Montoya in goal for the Canadiens' regular-season opener Thursday night in Buffalo was not in the plans until Price took ill this week.
"The start was going to come sooner or later," said Montoya, an off-season acquisition from the Florida Panthers who will play in a season opener for the first time since 2011 with the New York Islanders. "This is what I've been preparing for in camp, so I'm excited."
Price missed a third straight day of practice on Wednesday. The 2015 Vezina Trophy winner has not played an NHL game since last Nov. 25, although he showed the knee injury that cut short his 2015-16 campaign was behind him by backstopping Canada to gold at the World Cup of hockey. Now he'll have to wait a little longer to resume his NHL career.
Coach Michel Therrien said there's a chance Price will be able to join the team Friday ahead of a game Saturday night in Ottawa. After losing last year's backup Mike Condon, who was claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Charlie Lindgren was recalled from the St. John's IceCaps to act as backup.
Montoya will face a Sabres squad still in shock at the potentially season-altering loss of star centre Jack Eichel, who was helped off the ice after injuring an ankle in practice on Wednesday. They were already missing one of their top off-season pickups, injured forward Kyle Okposo.
The Canadiens will be out to show they are a contender again after going into a tailspin and missing the playoffs when Price was injured last season.
That prompted a stunning off-season deal that saw fan favourite P.K. Subban traded to Nashville for Weber in a swap of right-side defencemen. Coach Michel Therrien is counting 24-year-old Nathan Beaulieu to be ready for first-pair defensive responsibilities playing beside the rock-solid Weber.
They didn't get to play much together in camp because Weber was at the World Cup, but Beaulieu had a strong pre-season, leading the NHL in scoring with eight points. The duo gets its first real test in Buffalo.
"He's going to learn playing with Shea," said Therrien. "I think he's ready and that he's up to the challenge."
"He's obviously got all the tools," Weber said of Beaulieu, a 2011 first rounder. "He's a very talented young kid. We're going to have to continue to get used to each other, but it's been good so far."
Defenceman Jeff Petry will also miss the opener with an injury, but may be ready to play Saturday. Greg Pateryn will take his spot on the second pairing with Andrei Markov.
The surprise on the third pair is Mikhail Sergachev, the NHL's youngest player at 18 years, three months. Therrien wants to see if the Russian, who was picked ninth overall in the June draft, can handle the tempo of NHL hockey before deciding whether to return him to the junior Windsor Spitfires. The six-foot-three Sergachev was impressive in camp.
Left-winger Artturi Lehkonen will also make his NHL debut. The 21-year-old will start on the second line with veteran Tomas Plekanec and gifted right winger Alexander Radulov, who makes his Canadiens debut after signing in the summer.
"It's pretty easy to play with world class players," said Lehkonen, a second round pick in 2013.
Another off-season acquisition, gritty winger Andrew Shaw, starts on the third line with David Desharnais and Dan Carr, which promises to be the best offensive third unit the club has had in recent years.
The new season also sees Alex Galchenyuk start at centre on the top unit with Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher looking to pick up on a torrid finish to the 2015-16 season that saw him end up with 30 goals.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016