Coach Claude Julien gives Carey Price the night off in back-to-back situation following Monday night’s OT win over Bruins in Boston.

Canadiens goaltender Antti Niemi reaches out to pull in the puck during NHL pre-season game against the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Sept. 19, 2018. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

Antti Niemi will be in goal for the Canadiens when they face the Florida Panthers Tuesday night at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

Canadiens coach Claude Julien announced his decision when he met with the media at 5 p.m. at the Bell Centre. The Canadiens didn’t have a morning skate Tuesday after beating the Bruins 3-2 in overtime Monday night in Boston.

Price, who has won his last two games and has an 11-6-0 record since Dec 1, has been dealing with a nagging lower-body injury this season. It hasn’t shown in Price’s play recently as he has improved his season record to 18-13-4 with a 2.65 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. He stopped 41 of 43 shots against the Bruins after stopping all 28 shots he faced Saturday night at the Bell Centre in a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

Niemi has won his last two starts while allowing only two goals in each game, making 45 saves in a 3-2 OT victory over the Stars in Dallas on Dec. 31 and stopping 30 shots in a 3-2 win over the Red Wings in Detroit on Jan. 8. Julien said those two performances helped in his decision to give Niemi the start against the Panthers with the Canadiens playing on back-to-back nights.

“I thought he was really, really good the last couple of games he’s played for us so that certainly helps,” Julien said. “He’s the goaltender that won the game for us in Florida (a 5-3 victory over the Panthers on Dec. 28). At the same time, we’re looking at short-term, we’re looking at long-term. Not to say that we can’t use the same goaltender in back-to-back games. We had a pretty good idea that we’d probably go with Niemi tonight. We were going to wait after the game (in Boston). 

“We got two back-to-back games this week,” Julien added about games against the Blue Jackets in Columbus this Friday and against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Bell Centre on Saturday. “We’ve had a tough schedule. Not to say other teams haven’t, but we have to manage it properly. I think it’s the right time … it gives Carey a good rest here and we know what he’s been through and we want to make sure that we take care of short-term business and long-term business. When you’ve got a goaltender like Niemi that’s played well, why not?”

Niemi has a 7-4-1 record this season with a 3.84 goals-against average and a .886 save percentage.

Julien said he talks with his goaltenders but that the final decision on who starts is up to the coaching staff.

“We don’t ask (Price) if he wants to play or doesn’t want to play,” the coach explained. “Whether we talk to him or not, at the end of the day it’s about making the right decision. Do we talk to the goaltenders? Absolutely, we always do. That’s something that is part of, I guess, the process. But at the end of the day, the decision really belongs to us as a coaching staff — what’s best for the team, what’s best for the individual. And that’s how we make that decision.”

The Canadiens (25-17-5) go into the game against the Panthers holding the No. 1 wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and are two points behind the Bruins (26-15-5), who are in third place in the Atlantic Division and hold one game in hand. The Canadiens are three points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs (28-15-2), who are in second place in the Atlantic Division and hold two games in hand.

More OT magic from Petry

Jeff Petry scored the winning goal for the Canadiens only 15 seconds into OT Monday night in Boston, batting the rebound of a Max Domi shot out of mid-air past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.

It was Petry’s second overtime goal this season and the NHL record for defencemen in a single season is four, shared by Scott Niedermayer and Shayne Gostisbehere.

With 10-23-33 totals this season, Petry ranks 11th among NHL defencemen in scoring.

Julien praises Deslauriers

The Canadiens were losing 1-0 in Boston Monday night when Nicolas Deslauriers dropped the gloves and got into a wild fight with the Bruins’ Kevan Miller at the 16:10 mark of the first period.

After the game, the Canadiens gave Deslauriers the Game of Throne cape as player of the game.

“Well, that explains it all,” Julien said when he met with the media before Tuesday night’s game against the Panthers. 

“To be honest with you, I just saw it happen and when it was all done it was a heckuva battle and you could see it energized our bench,” the coach added. “So I think Delo did a great job there in doing what he felt he had to do. As much of those kind of things are slowly disappearing, I thought the timing was great.”

Domi’s slump continues

Domi has now gone 17 games without scoring a goal, but continues to lead the Canadiens in points with 14-26-40 totals.

Fourth-line centre Michael Chaput is still looking for his first goal this season after playing 25 games, while defenceman Victor Mete is still looking for his first goal in the NHL after playing 85 games over the last two seasons.

Other Canadiens players who are struggling to score include Artturi Lehkonen and Tomas Tatar, who have both gone nine games without a goal; Kenny Agostino, who hasn’t scored in eight games; Phillip Danault, who hasn’t scored in seven games; and Jonathan Drouin, who hasn’t scored in six games.

Paul Byron ended a 10-game goal-less drought when he scored a short-handed goal against the Bruins Monday night. It marked the second straight game the Canadiens scored while short-handed.

The Canadiens didn’t have any power-play opportunities against the Bruins and are still ranked last in the NHL on the power play with a 12.5 per cent success rate.

Panthers are struggling

The Panthers (17-19-8) are winless in their last six games (0-4-2) and are in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, 12 points out of a playoff spot. They are coming off a 5-1 loss to the Canucks Saturday in Vancouver.

“You try not to think about the other team right now, it’s about us,” the Panthers’ Jonathan Huberdeau said after Tuesday’s morning skate at the Bell Centre. “We just got to focus, have a good start. It’s been a while since we’ve played a full 60 minutes.

“Montreal is always a good building to play in,” added Huberdeau, who is from Saint-Jérôme. “Obviously, personally for me it’s family and friends. As a team now we know … we had a couple of meetings … we know we got to come out hard. Especially they played last night, so we got to try and get on them early.”

The Panthers have a 3-1-0 record in their last four games against the Canadiens and have outscored them 12-5 during that span.

The Canadiens and Panthers are tied for third in the NHL this season in shots per game, both averaging 33.7.

Luongo moving up all-time lists

The Panthers’ Roberto Luongo is six wins away from passing Ed Belfour for third place all-time in wins by an NHL goalie and is five games away from passing Patrick Roy to move into second place in all-time games played by a goalie.

The 39-year-old Luongo has an all-time record of 479-387-120. This season, the Montreal native has an 8-11-1 record with a 3.34 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage.

The NHL’s ironman

Panthers defenceman Keith Yandle, who will play in his 760th consecutive game Tuesday night, is the NHL’s current ironman. His streak is the sixth longest in NHL history, but the 32-year-old still has a long way to go to catch record- holder Doug Jarvis, the former Canadien who played in 964 consecutive games.

Domi, who will play in his 163rd consecutive game Tuesday night, is the Canadiens’ ironman, followed by Petry (161) and Brendan Gallagher (155).

Where the Canadiens stand

The Canadiens rank 17th in the NHL in offence, scoring an average of 2.96 goals per game, and rank 18th in defence, allowing an average of 3.00. They rank 31st on the power play (12.5 per cent), 20th in penalty-killing (78.7 per cent) and 30th in faceoffs (47.2 per cent).

Domi leads the Canadiens in scoring with 14-26-40 totals, followed by Drouin (13-21-34), Tatar (14-29-33), Petry (10-23-33) and Phillip Danault (7-24-31).

Gallagher, who has 18-9-27 totals and leads the Canadiens in goals, has had success against the Panthers in the past, posting 8-9-17 totals in 23 games against Florida.

Where the Panthers stand

The Panthers rank 11th in the NHL in offence, scoring an average of 3.09 goals per game, and 28th in defence, allowing an average of 3.55. They rank fourth on the power play (26.6 per cent), 16th in penalty-killing (79.8 per cent) and 21st in faceoffs (48.7 per cent).

Huberdeau leads the Panthers in scoring with 12-35-47 totals, followed by Aleksander Barkov (17-27-44), Mike Hoffman (21-19-40), Evgenii Dadonov (18-19-37) and Keith Yandle (6-30-36). Huberdeau has 30 points (8-22-30) in his last 24 games, while Barkov has 16 points (6-10-16) in his last 14 games.

Former Hab Weise placed on waivers

The Philadelphia Flyers placed former Canadiens forward Dale Weise on waivers Tuesday.

The 30-year-old has this season and next remaining on his four-year, US$9.4-million contract that has an annual salary-cap hit of $2.35 million. In 42 games with the Flyers this season, Weise has 5-6-11 totals and is minus-6.

The Canadiens traded Weise to the Chicago Blackhawks, along with Tomas Fleischmann, in exchange for Phillip Danault and a second-round pick at last year’s NHL Draft. The Canadiens used that pick (38th overall) to select Russian Alexander Romanov, who was named the best defenceman at this year’s World Junior Hockey Championship.

What’s next?

The Canadiens will enjoy a day off Wednesday, then practise at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in Brossard before heading to Columbus, where they will play the Blue Jackets Friday night (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio). The Canadiens will then return home to face the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., CBC, SNE, SNO, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio). On Sunday, the Canadiens will hold their annual Skills Competition at the Bell Centre, starting at 11 a.m. Tickets for that cost $12 and $10.


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