The Montreal Canadiens are at last set to return to the ice Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers, their first game since a week without skating due to their season’s suspension via COVID-19 protocols.
Things have changed somewhat since last Monday, when the Habs and Oilers were initially set to tangle.
With Jesper Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia named to the COVID-19 protocol list, the intended series didn’t take off. The Oilers remained in Montreal until Thursday and practiced at the Bell Centre, while the Canadiens saw their Brossard practice facility shuttered.
Kotkaniemi has since left the COVID protocol list and has practiced with the club, while Armia remains offline for now.
Tyler Toffoli, injured March 19, may be returning soon. He’s expected to be at Tuesday’s practice ahead of the Oilers contest.
Montreal didn’t rest on their laurels during the shutdown, with the club acquiring forward Eric Staal on Friday for a pair of draft picks. The 36-year-old former Buffalo Sabre gives the Habs a boost for the post-season.
“I just want to win, I want to be out there and win, be competitive, and try and help our group win games, wherever that is in the lineup,” Staal said. “I will do what I can. I feel like I’ve got some games left in me and that I can be a contributor. Wherever they have me start, I will work as hard as I can to make sure that I’m out there more than not. It’s about trying to win games. That’s what I’m here for and looking forward to.”
The Canadiens also signed Cole Caufield to an entry level deal on Saturday. He should be ready to debut for the AHL’s Laval Rocket shortly.
After not playing for a week, Montreal still holds the fourth spot in the North Division. They’ve got a heavy slog ahead, with 25 contests in the next 43 days to polish off the season. They’ll have five sets of back-to-backs during the stretch.
“Hopefully, we can get back and pick up where we left off and make sure that those bad habits don’t seep back into our game,” said forward Brendan Gallagher. “Because those things, especially with the limited practice time we’re going to have, it’s just something we can’t afford to happen.”
Those bad habits seemed to manifest in the first half of the season, during which they accumulated a 14-8-9 record to push them two measly points ahead of the struggling Flames and Canucks. Nothing is certain, but Montreal has the opportunity to go on a bit of a run here.
It all starts – again – by facing the Oilers.