Hickey on hockey: Habs' Florida swing will be a working trip for Price

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Hickey on hockey: Habs' Florida swing will be a working trip for Price

Post by admin » Sat Dec 28, 2019 7:51 am

Claude Julien likes to play his cards close to his vest, but there’s little doubt how he plans to use his goaltenders this weekend.

After the Canadiens practised in Montreal on Friday, Julien said he didn’t know whether backup Charlie Lindgren would play one of the two games in Florida. The truth is that it would take a catastrophe to keep Carey Price out of the nets for Saturday’s game here against the Lightning (7 p.m., SNE, SN360, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and the second half of the back-to-back set Sunday against the Florida Panthers (7 p.m., SN, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) in beautiful Sunrise-by-the-Swamp.

The Canadiens’ plans for the weekend were clear when the players assembled after their three-day Christmas break. If Julien and goaltending coach Stéphane Waite felt that Price needed a night off on the weekend, they would have recalled rookie Cayden Primeau from the Laval Rocket. Instead, they decided to keep Lindgren, who watched from a rinkside seat while Price played all four games on the team’s Western Canada swing.

Players and coaches will tell you that every game on the schedule is important, but the reality is that some games are more important than others. That’s the case this weekend.

These are true four-point games — two points that go to the winning team and two points denied to the loser. Those points are crucial because these three teams are tightly bunched in the battle for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

After winning three of four games on the pre-Christmas portion of their holiday road trip, the Canadiens are third in the Atlantic but there is no margin of error because the two Florida teams are closing in on Montreal and hold games in hand. The Panthers are one point back of Montreal and they have played one fewer game. The Lightning is two points back, but Tampa Bay has two games in hand.

While Price’s numbers this season aren’t very impressive, he has won six of his last eight starts and has steered the Canadiens back into playoff contention. There are always concerns about overworking the No. 1 netminder, but this is a situation where the Canadiens have to go with their best.

Armia injury will hurt: I can’t remember Nathan Beaulieu making an impact when he was with the Canadiens, but his slash on Joel Armia Monday in Winnipeg could have a negative impact on Montreal’s playoff hopes.

Armia, who is listed as week-to-week with a hand injury, is having a career season with 12 goals and 21 points. But his offensive production is only part of the story. Armia is one of the few forwards on the roster with size and he has emerged as a two-way force. He plays on the power-play and penalty-kill units and it is nearly impossible to take the puck away from him. He’s third on the team in hits, with 92 — Jeff Petry leads with 103 — and he and Brendan Gallagher are tied for the team lead with 27 takeaways.

Maintaining a long-distance relationship: While the Canadiens were in Western Canada, I took a break in Belize where I enjoyed sun, warm weather, lobster and the crab races at the Crazy Canucks’ beachfront bar in San Pedro.

But the power of the internet allowed me to keep up with the Canadiens as they put together a more-than-respectable record on the road.

There was the usual fine coverage from Gazette colleague Stu Cowan and I was also able to follow Dan Robertson and Sergio Momesso as they broadcast the games on TSN 690.

Because of my schedule, I rarely get an opportunity to listen to the TSN 690 broadcasts, but it was a treat to listen to Robertson’s call. He’s up there with the best play-by-play announcers who have the ability to transport the listener to the rink.

Robertson is the latest in a line of Nova Scotia natives who have made their mark covering the Canadiens. The standard was set by the late Danny Gallivan, who had a Hall of Fame career with Hockey Night in Canada. Halifax native Fred Walker, who shared a classroom or two with me at St. Mary’s University, was the play-by-play voice of the Canadiens on CBC Radio’s Sunday night broadcasts.

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