Just when you thought the Canadiens’ roster was set for Wednesday’s season opener in Toronto (7 p.m., Sportsnet, SN360, RDS, TSN 690 Radio), forward Andrew Shaw dropped in on the Canadiens’ practice in Brossard Monday and declared himself ready to go.
Shaw said he would like to be in the lineup Wednesday but, even if head coach Claude Julien decides to wait, his return is imminent, which means Jacob de la Rose and Nikita Scherbak are back on the bubble.
Shaw was sidelined by a knee injury and a concussion as the result of a hit by Dallas defenceman Greg Pateryn on March 13. He underwent surgery in April to repair torn ligaments in his left knee.
“The doctors have cleared me, but the NHL protocol is to go through a few practices before you play,” Shaw said.
Julien said he would evaluate Shaw after the practices Monday and Tuesday, but would wait until Wednesday to make a decision on whether he would face the Leafs.
While it was the first time he has joined his teammates, Shaw said he has been skating since late August and Monday’s fast-paced workout was a relative breeze because he’s been doing 45-minute, one-on-one sessions with strength coach Patrick Delisle-Houde.
“I don’t know if I’m ahead of schedule,” said Shaw. “The doctors said five or six months and Sept. 25 was five months.”
Shaw said his knee is stronger than before and that his biggest concern coming back was his head. He has consulted with numerous doctors about his concussion and said he is symptom-free.
Shaw provides Julien with more depth and versatility. He play centre or on the wing and he plays with an edge.
While there is continuing concern over the lack of scoring after the Canadiens ranked 29th in a goals scored last season, there is the potential for four relatively balanced lines.
The No. 1 line at practice Monday had newcomer Tomas Tatar and 31-goal scorer Brendan Gallagher flanking Phil Danault.
Jonathan Drouin was absent from practice Monday, but he will line up with rookie centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia, who will fill a variety of roles. For starters, Armia provides Kotkaniemi with support because they are both from Pori, a seaport in western Finland. Armia is big enough to offer some protection for the teenager. Armia can also jump into the faceoff circle if Kotkaniemi has difficulty with a stronger and/or more experienced opponent.
Newcomer Matthew Peca is set to play centre between Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen. Peca is getting a chance to play regularly after being stuck in a logjam of talented centres in Tampa Bay and he has two wingers capable of scoring 20 goals.
Tomas Plekanec gets to play on the fourth line with Charles Hudon and Max Domi. That leaves the coach the task of finding a spot for Shaw.
Putting together a defence is more problematic. Coaches generally like to pair a left-handed defenceman with a right-handed shot and, if one guy is a free spirit, it’s nice to have a stay-at-home partner to cover up for him.
It’s difficult to do that when only two of your healthy defencemen are right-hand shots.
Mike Reilly and Jeff Petry have the lefty-righty thing going for them, but they’re at their best when they have the puck. Petry had to play a larger role last season after Shea Weber was injured. He responded with career highs in goals (12), assists (30) and points (42) but he also had a career-worst minus-30 rating.
Youngsters Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen are ideal on paper with the left-right combination and the puck-moving Mete complementing the more defence-minded Juulsen. Mete is poised to build on his successful rookie season, but Juulsen is still learning to play at this level.
Left-handed shots Xavier Ouellet, Karl Alzner and Jordie Benn are stacked up on the third pair and will be trying to make their mark before Weber and David Schlemko return from injuries.
Carey Price and Antti Niemi return in goal. At his best, Price is the No. 1 goaltender in the world, but he’s coming off a season when he was at his worst. He’s collecting $15 million of his new US$84 million contract this season and the Canadiens are hoping he earns it. Niemi is a solid backup, but there’s a limit to how many games he can play.