Struggling Montreal Canadiens head off on long road trip

Struggling Montreal Canadiens head off on long road trip

Main pic: Montreal Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher (11) moves in on New York Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss during second period NHL hockey action in Montreal Sunday, November 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.

Beaulieu says long road trip may be just what struggling Canadiens need.

MONTREAL — A long road trip may be a welcome respite for the injury-struck Montreal Canadiens.

A game Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings at the Bell Centre is the Canadiens’ last at home until Jan. 6.

They will play eight straight on the road over an 18 day stretch, including the outdoor Winter Classic on Jan. 1 against the Bruins at Boston’s Fenway Park.

“I feel it’s something we need right now,” defenceman Nathan Beaulieu said. “It’ll be good for us to get on the road and spend time together.

“We’re going through a tough stretch right now. We could be playing better hockey, so sometimes just a change of scenery, being around the guys and getting meals together, helps us bond and try to get back on track.”

The Canadiens, who started the season 18-4-3, have struggled of late with both star goaltender Carey Price and first-line right-winger and sparkplug Brendan Gallagher out with injuries.

They lost four in a row from Dec. 3 to Dec. 10, got a win against Ottawa, and then lost again at home to San Jose on Tuesday night.

The injury situation appears to be improving. Centre Torrey Mitchell returned Tuesday after missing 11 games with a lower-body injury. Right-wing Devante Smith-Pelley, who has missed five games with a similar ailment, took part in an optional skate Thursday morning and said he could be back before Christmas.

Gallagher, who has two broken fingers, has been skating on his own and may be back before the end of the road trip. Price was to miss at least six weeks when he went down with a lower body problem on Nov. 25, which would put his best-case return at the end of the road trip.

The voyage starts with games Saturday in Dallas, Monday in Nashville and Tuesday in Minnesota. After the three-day holiday break, they play Dec. 26 in Washington, Dec. 28 in Tampa and Dec. 29 at Florida.

Then there is the Winter Classic and a game Jan. 5 at Philadelphia before they return for a home game Jan. 6 against New Jersey.

“It’s important to stack as many points as you can at home,” said Beaulieu, whose team is 11-5-2 at home and 9-4-1 on the road. ” But with lengthy road trips, it’s tough.

“The first two games are so important. You’ve got to get points because, as the trip goes on, it only gets harder.”

A film crew have been all over the Bell Centre and the team’s training centre recently producing behind-the-scenes shows leading up to the Winter Classic.

But coach Michel Therrien said the outdoor game has not been a preoccupation so far.

“I don’t think the Winter Classic is a distraction because we’re not thinking about that, even though there’s a lot of people around the team right now,” he said. “I don’t see it as a distraction at all.”

The Canadiens haven’t played poorly of late, except for a lifeless 3-2 loss in Carolina on Dec. 5, but their power play and scoring in general has gone stagnant. Those are areas Beaulieu would like to see improved on the road.

“Bounces come and go through the season,” he said. “We’re the only people to blame for it.

“We’re not going to complain about not getting the bounces. We control bounces. We’ve just got to get back to the simple things. When you try to do too much in hockey is when bad things happen.”

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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