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Greg Wyshynski

Wounded Canadiens find motivation in desperation

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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Urgency. Desperation. These were the words Michael Cammalleri(notes) used to characterize the mindset of his Montreal Canadiens heading into last night's game at the Washington Capitals.

Not just because they were one game under .500 and near the bottom of the conference standings, but because their positive momentum was again anchored by bad injury news, as his linemate Brian Gionta's(notes) broken foot shelved him indefinitely.

"Much didn't have to be said tonight. It was a real good team, on the road," said Cammalleri, whose power-play goal in the third period gave the Habs a 3-2 win in D.C.

"Usually, it's the team that's the most banged up that sacrifices the most. The bumps and bruises feel good when you get a win."

There wasn't a chance to ask Cammalleri's linemates Scott Gomez(notes) and Travis Moen(notes) about that theory after the game; both were injured in the win, and are questionable for tonight's game against the Detroit Red Wings back in Montreal. So for a team that's shown signs of consistency recently, the roster shuffle could be on once again.

"I got used to it," said center Tomas Plekanec(notes), whose line with Andrei Kostitsyn(notes) and Max Pacioretty(notes) produced a goal and was arguably the best in the game. "For most of the season, I played with almost every single winger on our team. But obviously it would be better for us to have constant lines."

Especially when the top line looked as promising as it did for Montreal, albeit briefly.

The chatter had been that Glen Metropolit(notes), the feisty checking forward, was going to get an audition with Gomez and Cammalleri after Gionta's injury. But it was Moen who got the start with the top-liners, scoring a second-period goal to tie the game at 1-1 on an assist from Cammalleri.

"I thought Travis really helped the other two," said Coach Jacques Martin. "He gave them a good presence at the net. He's been having an excellent start for our team. Played well on every line I've put him on."

At 6-2 and 215 pounds, he's a more physical presence than Gionta, which gave the Montreal first line a different dynamic.

"Tonight what you saw right away was Travis get in on the forecheck and really create some turnovers for us," said Cammalleri. "It helps a lot for us, because our mentality is that we don't have to make a great play coming into the zone; we just have to get it in and let him do his thing. Create our chances from inside the zone, which is a much more consistent way to play hockey."

But again: Consistency can live or die on injuries, and the Canadiens have battled through a few, significant ones, especially on the blue line. Yet as much adversity as injuries create, they also create a sense of desperation and altered expectations, even when you're wearing a Montreal Canadiens sweater.

"It seems to me we're kind of scared ... well, scared isn't the right word. We respect other teams when they have a superstar like Ovechkin and score the most goals in the league so far," said Plekanec.

Carey Price(notes) (32 saves), who was outstanding late in the game while playing a stretch without his goalie stick, said being a wounded team against a first-place opponent changed their focus. "The thing about being an underdog is that expectations aren't as high," he said. "I guess it kind of takes the pressure off."

So like so many other teams in this injurious season of NHL hockey, the Canadiens will lick their wounds, count the bruises and see who shows up in the lineup for their next game.

Even if it means Cammalleri skates with some new faces.

"Who knows? It's part of hockey that lines change from practice to practice, game to game."

Period to period?

"Shift to shift," he said with a laugh. "So, you never know."

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