Canadiens Notebook: Habs give coach Claude Julien reason to smile

Move within one point of a wild-card playoff spot following Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia.

Canadiens coach Claude Julien was in a good mood after Wednesday’s optional practice in Brossard.

A 3-1 road win over the Philadelphia Flyers the night before that put the Canadiens one point out of a playoff spot will do that.

When asked what part of his team’s game he was most impressed with in Philadelphia, Julien said: “Our game overall. We didn’t give much defensively. We were stingy … we still had a fair amount of chances. An empty-net goal (by Max Domi), but we scored two goals. When you look at a quick whistle there on the one … arguably it could have been a goal as well. But I thought defensively we we did a great job against a team that has a lot of success in tight around the net. I thought we did a good job there and in our backcheck and sorting it out at the blue line. I thought we didn’t give them much. So that was a real solid defensive game.”

The Canadiens (38-28-7) are now one point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets (40-29-4), who hold the second and final wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens are back in action Thursday when the New York Islanders visit the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio), while the Blue Jackets will visit the Edmonton Oilers (9 p.m., SNE, SN1, TVA Sports). A regulation-time win by the Canadiens and a regulation-time loss by the Blue Jackets would move the Canadiens into the second wild-card spot.

“Right from the drop of the puck, everyone was kind of going,” Canadiens defenceman Victor Mete said about Tuesday’s win over the Flyers. “We all really knew how much that game was for both teams, so everyone just came out, did their job and we were successful.”

The Flyers (35-30-8) are now five points behind the Canadiens and could have moved within one point with a victory Tuesday night.

“Every game is huge right now and they were trying to catch us,” Mete said. “For us to pull a little bit ahead of them now is big for us. Tomorrow is another huge game for us and if we can come out and play the same way as we did in Philly then I think we’ll be fine.

“We just got to keep going out there and not really worry about (what’s) ahead of us,” Mete added. “Just kind of game by game. So just focus on tomorrow’s game and that’s it for now.”

The Canadiens and Blue Jackets both have nine games remaining in the regular season.

Eleven players took part in Tuesday’s optional practice: Jonathan Drouin, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia, Jordan Weal, Charles Hudon, Nicolas Deslauriers, Matthew Peca, Mike Reilly, Dale Weise, Charlie Lindgren and Antti Niemi.

Shaw making impact

Andrew Shaw had two assists against the Flyers, giving him 17-21-38 totals in 54 games. Shaw needs one point to match his career high set in 2013-14 with the Chicago Blackhawks when he posted 20-19-39 totals in 80 games. Shaw won two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks before being acquired by the Canadiens in a trade on June 24, 2016.

“There’s been a lot of players that have given us a lot of good play,” Julien said. “I think people are surprised about Tomas Tatar’s play, Max Domi’s got the most goals and points he’s had in the NHL. There’s a lot of good things … I could go on and on. An 18-year old Kotkaniemi, who’s been a real nice surprise. Then you got Shawsy who comes in. He’s had his fair share of injuries, but when he’s in our lineup his net-front presence, his grit … he’s a warrior and that goes a long way. His experience as well as far as having some long playoff runs you hope will help the guys deal with this last stretch as well.”

Tatar has played with and against Shaw in the NHL.

“We played against each other a lot in the minors, too,” Tatar said. “We were in the same division, so we saw each other a lot. We were talking on the ice, too. He likes to talk on the ice, that’s for sure. We got a few words in for sure.

“He’s battling hard. He’s a big part of this team,” Tatar added. “You want to have a guy like that on your side and he’s great in the locker room. He’s talking a lot on the ice, but I think he’s motivating our bench as well with the words that he’s saying. … He’s been playing in the league for quite a bit. He has a few Cups. I think he knows what needs to be said and what needs to be done. Like I said, he’s for sure part of the leadership.”

When asked if he could repeat some of what Shaw says on the ice to opponents, Tatar smiled and said: “I think I’d rather not.”

Balancing act

Tatar was also asked about the balancing act the Canadiens need to perform while concentrating on playing good defence down the stretch while also not playing on their heels when it comes to offence.

“It’s a challenge, for sure,” he said. “But around this time of the year you want to be sure you’re playing responsible D zone. If you do the right job there, then you can create offence. It kind of goes in both ends. I would say you have to sacrifice a lot, whether it’s to block shots or do the extra job, and you can create offence from there.”

Gallagher leading the way

Brendan Gallagher scored his team-leading 31st goal of the season against the Flyers and matched his career high set last season.

“He’s working hard every game,” Mete said about Gallagher. “He’s a guy you know you can count on pretty much every game to give it his all every shift. You saw yesterday he got us on the board there early and we kind of just fed off that momentum.”

Mete added that he has learned a lot from watching Gallagher play.

“For me, just watching him at practice and in games, he’s always probably one of the hardest workers out there,” Mete said. “So just kind of him being a role model for me and kind of wanting to kind of play like him and that sense of always grinding and working hard.”

Tatar, who is now Gallagher’s linemate, played against him while with the Detroit Red Wings.

“He’s really hard around the net and you appreciate it way more when you’re on his side, when he’s your teammate,” Tatar said. “When you play against him, he’s hard around that area and it’s just what makes him so successful. He’s scoring a lot of goals, dirty goals, tough goals that not everybody can score. He’s just a really good player around the net.”

Price voted NHL’s top goalie

Phillip Danault wasn’t surprised that Carey Price was voted the best goalie in the NHL by 29.9 per cent of the more than 500 players who took part in the NHLPA Player Poll, with the results published on Wednesday. Price finished well ahead of the Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne (17.3 per cent) and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy (17.1 per cent).

“Pricey’s always been big for Montreal, but even more this year,” Danault said after Wednesday’s optional practice. “He’s making some big saves and is helping us to get some big wins, too. Yesterday again. Pricey’s been a huge player for us. He works so hard and he’s so calm, too. I think that’s what’s making him the best goalie in the league.”

“He’s on a mission (to make the playoffs) and he wants to win,” Danault added. “He’s a winner and, obviously, a big leader for us. Even if sometimes goalies don’t talk much, but when Pricey talks, everybody listens. He’s getting some wins for us, making some key saves to help us.”

Marchand NHL’s best trash-talker

The Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand was voted both the best (21.3 per cent) and worst (12.5 per cent) trash-talker in the NHLPA Player Poll.

Julien has coached Marchand with the Bruins and against him with the Canadiens.

When asked about Marchand finishing first in both trash-talking categories, Julien smiled and said: “I agree.”

Alzner becomes a father again

Laval Rocket defenceman Karl Alzner missed Wednesday night’s AHL game at Place Bell against the Providence Bruins for a very good reason. Alzner’s wife, Mandy, gave birth to their third child, a boy, to join sister Stella and brother Anson.

Alzner had 1-4-5 totals in 26 games with the Rocket this season. He only played nine games with the Canadiens, picking up one assist. Alzner has three more seasons remaining on his five-year, US$23.125-million contract with an annual $4.625 million salary-cap hit.

What’s next?

The Canadiens will have a morning skate at 11 a.m. Thursday in Brossard before facing the Islanders at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

The Canadiens will then practise at noon Friday at the Bell Centre, which will also be team photo day, as they prepare to face the Buffalo Sabres Saturday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., CITY, SNE, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio), followed by a rare Sunday night game against the Hurricanes in Carolina (7 p.m., SN, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

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