BOSTON — If the Canadiens weren’t already the underdogs going into Sunday’s game against the Bruins (7 p.m., Sportsnet RDS, TSN 690 Radio) , their chances of winning were further diminished when top-four defenceman Victor Mete left Saturday’s home loss against the Philadelphia Flyers with a lower-body injury.
Mete remained in Montreal on Sunday as the team’s medical staff worked to determine the extent of his injury. If he’s out for any length of time, the Canadiens could be a facing a major problem.
“Every team has injuries and I can only work with what I’ve got,” coach Claude Julien said Sunday morning when asked about the gaping hole in his defence corps. “It’s an opportunity for other players to step up.”
The problem is the players who may be asked to step up and play a top-four role have been unable to secure regular employment on a third pairing.
Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot, Jeff Petry and Mete have been in the top four all season. But the third pairing has been a mix-and-match situation with five players sharing the work.
Rookie Cale Fleury, who is likely to join Petry on the second pair in Boston, has had the most work and has the most potential. He has appeared in 20 games and has established a reputation as a heavy hitter. He moves the puck well, but doesn’t have Mete’s offensive skills.
The third pair for the Boston game will be Brett Kulak and Gustav Olofsson. Kulak has played 15 games, while Olofsson made his Canadiens debut on Saturday after being called up from Laval. He was used sparingly in the final two periods and was a minus-two in his 11:16 of ice time. He has previous NHL experience in Minnesota, but never in as top role. Mike Reilly has played in 11 games, while Christian Folin, who started the season in Montreal, is in Laval on a conditioning stint after playing only five games early in the season. In his three AHL games, Folin hasn’t shown anything worthy of a quick return to Montreal.
Going into camp, the Canadiens had high hopes for Josh Brook, but his play showed he needs time in the AHL. Noah Juulsen, who was a first-round draft choice in 2015, could help if he stays healthy. He missed most of last season with an eye injury and he has been limited to 12 games in Laval because of recurring headaches.
Carey Price returns in goal Sunday. He joined Kulak and Reilly for a very optional morning skate.
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