NASHVILLE — Two of the three newcomers will make their Canadiens debuts Thursday night when they face the Nashville Predators at the Bridgestone Arena (8 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).
Centre Nate Thompson and right-winger Dale Weise will be on the fourth line along with Nicolas Deslauriers, while defenceman Christian Folin will be a healthy scratch. Weise and Folin were acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers last Saturday, while Thompson was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.
“I just want them to play their game,” coach Claude Julien said after the Canadiens’ morning skate Thursday. “The boost that we’ll get from them will probably be from the experience that we’ve picked up where in certain experiences they’ll be able to handle it more than a guy who has less.
“We’re happy that Chaput is still with us because he’s a good faceoff guy, a good penalty-kill guy,” Julien added about Michael Chaput, who cleared NHL waivers on Wednesday and was assigned to the AHL’s Laval Rocket. “We just went and got somebody (Thompson) who’s very much like he is with more experience, who’s been around a little bit longer. So we hope that kind of stuff is going to help us a lot. Weiser is one of those guys that you want him to skate and get on the forecheck and create some things, put Ds on their heels. I think that part of their game, I hope, is going to give us a fourth line that’s going to bring something tonight that’s going to help the other three lines out.”
The Canadiens (31-18-7) go into Thursday night’s game holding the first wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the third-place Boston Bruins (32-17-8) in the Atlantic Division. The Predators (33-21-5) are in second place in the Western Conference’s Central Division.
“I think we’ve been playing with pretty good energy as it is, but two new guys — especially guys with experience, too — can help with the locker room and are going to bring that energy and excitement,” Canadiens captain Shea Weber said after the morning skate. “One being a first-time Hab (Thompson), which is obviously pretty special, and a guy who is coming back (Weise) that I think really enjoyed his time here.”
Thompson will wear No. 21 with the Canadiens, while Weise gets the No. 22 back that he wore during his first stint with Montreal.
Carey Price will start in goal for the Canadiens against the Predators. Price has a 23-13-5 record with a 2.55 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.
Here’s how the lines and defence pairings looked at Thursday’s morning skate:
Drouin – Danault – Gallagher
Tatar – Domi – Shaw
Lehkonen – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Deslauriers – Thompson – Weise
Hudon – Peca
Mete – Weber
Reilly – Petry
Kulak – Benn
Milestone game for Weber
Thursday night’s game will be the 900th of Weber’s NHL career.
“I’m not really thinking about that tonight,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a pretty good accomplishment but I think the biggest thing for us is, obviously, making sure we’re playing a good, solid game tonight and get the two points. I’m thinking about what we need to do to win this game. Obviously, the last time they played us in our building they suffocated us and played really well. So we got to make sure that we’re ready in combatting that.”
The Predators beat the Canadiens 4-1 at the Bell Centre on Jan. 5.
Thursday’s game will also mark the first time Weber and the Predators’ P.K. Subban have faced each other in Nashville since the blockbuster trade that saw them switch teams on June 29, 2016. Injuries prevented that from happening the first two times these teams have met in Nashville since the trade.
In 21 games this season after recovering from foot and knee surgeries, Weber has 9-12-21 totals and is plus-16 while averaging a team-high 24:12 of ice time. Subban, who has missed time with an upper-body injury, has 5-15-20 totals and is plus-6 in 40 games while averaging 22:01 of ice time.
Habs a good road team
The Canadiens have had success on the road this season, posting a 14-8-3 record.
“I think we’re just keeping it simple on the road,” Weber said. “We’re playing forward and playing hard and we’ve been successful so far, but there’s also a long way to go here. So got to keep the things up we’ve been doing in order to be successful.”
When asked about his team keeping it simple, Julien said: “We often use the words we keep it simple. Simple can be a word with different definitions. When we talk about simple is we’re doing the right things. It doesn’t mean we’re not using our skill level, it doesn’t mean we’re not doing those kind of things. But we’re not complicating the game. Sometimes you try and do too much at times and that’s something that every once in a while at home you got guys trying to do a little bit more than they should and that’s where that term comes up with: Let’s simplify our game. We don’t have to overdo things and that’s probably what we’ve done well on the road. We haven’t really gotten into a lot of situations where we’ve tried to complicate the game. We’ve really respected the plan that’s put in place for every game and it’s given us a fair amount of success.”
The Canadiens have a 17-10-4 record at the Bell Centre.
Long stretch without a road game
The Canadiens will be playing their first road game since Jan. 18 in Columbus, when they beat the Blue Jackets 4-1. Since then, the Canadiens have played seven straight home games, posting a 4-1-2 record, and also enjoyed the all-star break and their bye week in the schedule.
“I don’t remember ever not going on the road for 25 days, basically,” Julien said. “So that was a good stretch at home. A stretch that I think we appreciated but, at the same time, not a bad thing to get back on the road here and it gives us an opportunity to maybe be a little bit more fresh in a way that we haven’t had the travel getting in our way. But we got a big game tonight. This is a very good team that’s lost a few games lately. They’re going to be hungry, they’re going to want to bounce back, so we’re walking into a situation here where we’re going to have to be good tonight.”
The Predators have an 0-2-1 record in their last three games.
Where the Habs rank
The Canadiens rank 13th in the NHL in offence, scoring an average of 3.04 goals per game, and 10th in defence, allowing an average of 2.89. They rank 30th on the power play (13.5 per cent), 20th in penalty-killing (79.3 per cent) and 28th in faceoffs (47.6 per cent).
Max Domi leads the Canadiens in scoring with 17-32-49 totals, followed by Jonathan Drouin (17-29-46), Tomas Tatar (17-23-40), Phillip Danault (11-29-40) and Jeff Petry (10-28-38).
Where the Predators rank
The Predators rank 12th in the NHL in offence, scoring an average of 3.07 goals per game, and fourth in defence, allowing an average of 2.59. They rank last (31st) on the power play (13.1 per cent), 11th in penalty-killing (81.3 per cent) and seventh in faceoffs (51.4 per cent).
Ryan Johansen leads the Predators in scoring with 11-41-52 totals, followed by Roman Josi (11-34-45), Mattias Ekholm (7-33-40), Filip Forsberg (20-17-37) and Victor Arvidsson (25-8-33). Goalie Pekka Rinne has a 19-15-3 record with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage.
The Canadiens will fly to Tampa after Thursday night’s game and have a practice scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at Amalie Arena before facing the Lightning on Saturday night (7 p.m., SNE, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN Radio 690). The Canadiens will be back in action Sunday when they visit the Florida Panthers (7 p.m., SN, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).
The Canadiens will fly back to Montreal on Monday and face the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).