But coach Claude Julien says new captain still isn’t expected to return to the lineup until mid-December following off-season knee surgery.
Canadiens Notebook: Shea Weber practises for first time this season
EDMONTON — Shea Weber practised with his teammates for the first time Monday since off-season knee surgery, but it still might be a while before the new Canadiens captain makes his season debut.
After Weber has surgery on June 19 to repair a meniscal tear in his right knee, the Canadiens said his recovery period was expected to be about six months, meaning he wouldn’t return to the lineup until mid-December. Weber has been skating alone with the Canadiens’ training camp, but hadn’t practised with his teammates until Monday at Rogers Place.
“His timeline hasn’t changed,” Julien said after practice in preparation for Tuesday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers (9 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio). “We’re still sticking with it. But the one thing he’s doing, he’s skating well. But the other part of his rehab is not over yet. So from what I’m being told we’re sticking with the schedule that was put in place at first.
“He’s a new captain, he’s a guy that’s well liked around the dressing room,” Julien added. “His teammates appreciate him, so it was nice to have him with us for the first practice with the team. Although he’s staying out of contact drills, the fact that he’s skating with us is encouraging I think for everybody.”
“It’s awesome,” teammate Jordie Benn said about seeing Weber back on the ice. “He looks great … he always looks good.”
Weber took part in all drills the Canadiens did Monday and did not look like a guy who hasn’t played a game since the NHL 100 Classic outdoor game last Dec. 16 at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa. Weber suffered a fractured left foot in the season opener last year and played through it for 26 games before being shut down and requiring surgery in March for tendon damage in the foot.
“He’s the big man on the team,” Benn said about Weber. “It’s good to have him out there. When he’s walking around the dressing room he changes the dressing room just the way he presents himself. He’s definitely a professional, but at the same time he can talk to the young guys and they listen.”
Max Domi also thought Weber looked great on the ice.
“I think as a team we’re so excited to have him out there,” Domi said. “His presence alone is something … when you have Shea Weber on the ice with you, you know that, you understand that and it kind of gives you a little extra boost and definitely a boost of confidence. We’re very lucky to have him. It’s good to see our captain back out there and we can’t wait to see him in game action here soon.
“He had an impact before he was even skating with us,” Domi added. “That’s why he’s the captain, right. In our locker room, he’s always got this aura that just installs confidence into our group. He’s a veteran player that’s been in the league for a long time. A great teammate, a great leader, a lot of experience in playoff and regular-season games. He’s played against and with some of the best players in the world. So what else can you really ask for from someone to learn from?”
No decision yet on goalie
Julien said after practice Monday that he still hasn’t decided who his starting goalie will be against the Oilers.
Antti Niemi is coming off a 34-save performance in a 5-4 win over the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday night at the Bell Centre that improved his record to 4-1-0 with a 3.30 goals-against average and a .894 save percentage. Carey Price, who admits he is struggling with the mental side of his game, has a 5-4-3 record with a 3.07 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage.
“I’m not ready to divulge that today,” Julien said when asked who his starting goalie will be. “Certainly going to have some more conversations … will let you know tomorrow, for sure.”
About Price, Julien said: “He’s pretty clear on what needs to be done. We’re seeing the same thing. I don’t think it’s technical. Sometimes a goaltender thinks too much or doesn’t have the confidence and that kind of stuff. He’s just working on the mental part of his game and capturing what we all know he’s capable of doing. So there’s no issues there in my mind. He’s going to get back to where he was, even at the beginning of the year when he was good for us. So he’s hit a little bit of a bump along the way and we’re going to give him a chance here to find his groove again.”
Here’s how the lines and defence pairings looked at practice:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Domi – Shaw
Agostino – Kotkaniemi – Lehkonen
Deslauriers – Peca – Hudon
Benn – Petry
Alzner – Reilly
Schlemko – Mete
Ouellet – Juulsen
Numbers game on blue line
Defenceman Xavier Ouellet was made a healthy scratch for the first time this season Saturday against the Golden Knights with David Schlemko making his season debut after recovering from a pre-season knee injury. Judging from the defence pairings at practice Monday, Ouellet could be in the press box again against the Oilers, along with Noah Juulsen.
“It a numbers game, too,” Julien said. “Schlemko comes back .. I think we all know that Schlemko is a pretty good defenceman so we have to make room for guys sometimes, so that was the decision.”
Karl Alzner, who has been a healthy scratch for 11 of the first 17 games, was in the lineup for the second straight game against the Golden Knights.
“He went in the second game because we liked his first game,” Julien said. “It’s almost like that for a lot of players, too. There’s some competition back there and sometimes we have to make decisions. Some guys are sitting out that maybe they don’t always deserve to sit out, but you can only dress six. So that’s the tough part of having some healthy players on the back end and that’s what we’re dealing with right now.”
After Tuesday night’s game, the Canadiens will fly to Calgary, where they will face the Flames on Thursday night (9 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio). The Canadiens will wrap up their Western Canada road trip Saturday when they visit the Vancouver Canucks (7 p.m., CBC, SN1, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).
Last season, the Canadiens went 2-1-0 on their Western Canada trip, beating the Canucks 7-4 and the Flames 3-2 before losing 4-1 to the Oilers.