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Canadiens Notebook: Captain Shea Weber given day off at practice

Montreal Canadiens captain Shea Weber follows the action against the  New York Islanders in Montreal on March 21, 2019.
Montreal Canadiens captain Shea Weber follows the action against the New York Islanders in Montreal on March 21, 2019.

Canadiens captain Shea Weber was given the day off from practice Tuesday in Brossard to rest ahead of Wednesday night’s game in Buffalo against the Sabres (7 p.m., SN, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

Nick Cousins was also absent from Tuesday’s practice with a back injury and won’t make the trip to Buffalo. Cousins, signed as a free agent this summer, has yet to play a game with the Canadiens.

Weber, 34, has averaged 25:31 of ice time through the Canadiens’ first two games — a 4-3 shootout loss in Carolina and a 6-5 shootout win in Toronto —  second on the team to Jeff Petry at 26:56. Weber has two assists and is plus-2.

Last year, Weber missed the first 24 games of the season while recovering from foot and knee surgeries.

Head coach Claude Julien said the coaching staff told Weber to take the day off from practice Tuesday

“This is what we’re doing as a coaching staff,” Julien said after practice. “We talk to players and we explain what we’re seeing. It doesn’t stop him from working out in the gym or doing a little bit of something there to keep himself going a little bit. But he doesn’t need the grind of a practice today after practising yesterday and relying on him a lot for three games in (the next) four days. So we’re just managing that the best we can.

“Carey (Price) last year had to play a lot at the end (of the season) and we basically kept him out for practices, which probably allowed him to play that well throughout the stretch,” Julien added. “ I don’t want to make a player sound old, but there’s age involved, there’s ice time involved, there’s the importance of that player on our team and all that stuff that comes into play and that’s why I say it’s not all about age because it might be a young player. Just because he’s played a lot of games, he might look a little tired and if we want him to be better we have to be flexible and open-minded enough to say: ‘You know what? This guy can benefit from a day off.’ I don’t care if he’s a first-year player or he’s 10th year in the league. So we’re going to keep a closer eye on that this year and we’re going to try and manage it that way.”

Kinkaid expected to start against Sabres

Brendan Gallagher pushed Keith Kinkaid into the middle of the centre-ice circle to lead the team stretch at the end of practice Tuesday, a sign the new backup goalie will probably get his first start with the Canadiens Wednesday night in Buffalo.

After practice, Julien wouldn’t confirm Kinkaid will start, saying he will announce his starter after Wednesday’s morning skate in Buffalo. But you have to think Price won’t play back-to-back games and will be in goal for the home opener Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

“We know Carey’s going to play two out of the three and Keith is going to play one of them,” Julien said about the Canadiens having three games in four days, including Saturday night’s matchup with the St. Louis Blues at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio). “We’re just going to make that final decision today on which direction we’re taking as far as which game (Kinkaid’s) going to play and which two Carey is.

“I don’t know that it matters that much how Carey is playing because there’s no way he’s going to play three in four,” Julien added about how he will decide which goalie starts. “I don’t care how good he is. I think you have to think short-term, but also long-term. You don’t bring another goaltender in to sit him out when you think you could use him.”

The lines

Here’s how the forward lines looked at Tuesday’s practice:

Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Domi – Suzuki
Drouin – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Byron – Thompson – Weal

Road warriors

This marks the sixth straight year the Canadiens have started the season with at least their first two games on the road and they have done very well.

In 2014-15, the Canadiens went 3-1-0 before playing their first home game, in 2015-16 they started 4-0-0 on the road, in 2016-17 they were 1-0-1, in 2017-18 they were 1-2-0, in 2018-19 they were 1-0-1 and this year they are 1-0-1 heading into Wednesday’s game in Buffalo.

“I don’t care either way,” Julien said when asked if there was any advantage to starting the season on the road. “We’re definitely going to be happy to play at home on Thursday and open up there for our fans. But you deal with the schedule and you play the games you have to play. The only thing is by being in hotels, team chemistry probably or guys being together a little bit more is maybe a bit of an advantage there. But you know what? If we’re going to start at home at some point, I won’t mind, either. I guess you deal with what you can deal with and then those are things that are out of your control so you make the best of it.”

The last time the Canadiens started the season at home was 2013-14 when they lost 4-3 to the Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre and then beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 before going on the road for four games.

What’s next?

The Canadiens had a 2 p.m. flight to Buffalo after practice Tuesday and will play the Sabres Wednesday night (7 p.m., SN, RDS, TSN 690 Radio). The Canadiens will fly home after the game in Buffalo and play their home opener Thursday night at the Bell Centre against the Detroit Red Wings (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) before wrapping up the week with a game against the Stanley Cup-champion St. Louis Blues Saturday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).

Next week, the Canadiens will play home games on Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) and Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) before hitting the road for a back-to-back weekend matinee games on Saturday in St. Louis (3 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) and Sunday in Minnesota (5 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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