Subban returns to practice with Habs
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BROSSARD, Que. - Everything at practice on Friday suggested that P.K. Subban will be back on the ice for the Montreal Canadiens this weekend, even if coach Michel Therrien said a final decision has yet to be made.
Therrien and his coaches went over every aspect of the type of game they want to play during a more than 90-minute workout that was Subban's first real practice since rejoining the team.
"I'm just anxious to get back on the ice, get back with the team and start things up again," said Subban, the club's top defenceman last season who missed training camp and the first six games of the regular season.
A surprise was that Max Pacioretty also skated the full practice only six days after an emergency appendectomy that was supposed to put him out of action for three to four weeks. The first-line left-winger is not expected to play Saturday, but looks ready to return well ahead of schedule.
The 23-year-old Subban signed a two-year US$5.75 million contract on Monday, ending the seemingly non-stop debate over every aspect of his value and his future with the team among fans and the media.
He should be on the ice when the Canadiens play their traditional pair of afternoon home games on Super Bowl Weekend on Saturday against Buffalo and Sunday against Ottawa.
Therrien said he would decide Saturday whether to use the flashy Subban, who appears to be under orders to park his ego at the door and buy into the coaches' "team concept." Team veterans reacted icily to Subban's return this week, saying only they were glad it was all over.
"You can practise game situations but being in a game is different," said Therrien, who returned for a second stint as coach in Montreal this season. "You can't just say 'He's a good athlete, let's throw him out there.' It doesn't happen like that.
"We'll make the decision on what's best for the team and what's best for the return of a defenceman."
"You've got to be yourself but, at the end of the day, it's got to be about helping the team," he said. "We have new systems in place and I'm starting to get familiar with them.
"I just want to look forward and play hockey. Its' over with and done. That's what everybody wanted. My focus is on the team now, not on off-ice stuff. We've got two big games this weekend."
The Canadiens will be adding a top talent and a popular figure with the Bell Centre crowd, but at least to start, his role will be reduced from the first-pair minutes he played last season.
He practised on the third pairing with veteran Francis Bouillon, as Rafael Diaz has done well in his old spot with Josh Gorges. Diaz and Andrei Markov, both with eight points in six games, remain the point men on the power play's first unit.
Goalie Carey Price, who will start against Buffalo, said the team has banned the "triple low-fives" victory celebration he and Subban used to perform after home wins in favour of a team salute to the fans.
Without Subban, the Canadiens got off to a 4-2-0 start, a big improvement over their 1-5-2 beginning to a 2011-12 campaign in which they finished last in the Eastern Conference.
The afternoon games are always an event, as many more children than usual are in the seats the decibel level in the arena goes way up.
"I like them when it's only once a year," Gorges said of the matinees. "It's a change.
"You just wake up and play. There's no sitting around thinking about it."
Pacioretty is known as a quick healer, particularly when he was ready for camp in 2011 only a few months after suffering a broken vertebrae in his neck.
His appendix was removed using a method that did not produce a long incision, and he said he felt much better. He and Subban skated when the team had a day off on Thursday.
"The doctor told me I can't really make it any worse and it's part of my competitive nature to go out and push it as far as I can, so when I'm playing I'll be ready," said Pacioretty.
When asked when he will be back, Pacioretty said: "It's hard to tell. I don't know. If it were my choice, I'd play tomorrow."
He skated on a fifth line with unused winger Mike Blunden, who was returned to AHL Hamilton later in the day.
Subban's return would likely bump Tomas Kaberle from the lineup.