Florida Panthers' Stephen Weiss hangs on to Montreal Canadiens' Mike Cammalleri during second period NHL hockey action Thursday, January 7, 2010 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
BROSSARD, Que. - When the doors to the Montreal Canadiens' dressing room at their suburban training centre opened Tuesday and a throng of media rushed to Mike Cammalleri's seat, mock cheers and applause went up from the returning winger's teammates.
Cammalleri, still the team's goal-scoring leader with 26, and power-play point man Marc-Andre Bergeron are both set to return from knee injuries, bringing the Canadiens as close to being fully healthy as they've been since the NHL season began Oct. 1.
Both are slated to play Wednesday night against the Northeast Division-leading Sabres in Buffalo, where Carey Price is expected to get his first start in goal in nine games.
"I'm excited, but I'll try to go about it in a business-like manner and do what I can to help the team," said Cammalleri, who missed seven weeks and 17 games with ligament damage in his right knee. "It will be a lot more fun playing in the games than watching."
The duo's return would have had the Canadiens at full health for the final push for playoff positions except winger Travis Moen suffered what is expected to be a short-term injury in a 2-0 loss at home to the Ottawa Senators on Monday night.
Moen was rushed off the ice in the second period bleeding profusely from a deep cut to his eye and forehead when caught by a skate as Ottawa's Matt Cullen went head over heels after a check in a corner.
It took 50 stitches to close the cut, but coach Jacques Martin said Moen was checked by an eye specialist and may be ready to return as early as Thursday. That's when Montreal plays host to the Florida Panthers.
"It cut through an eye but didn't do any damage," said Martin. "It looks like he'll be all right."
Veteran Mathieu Darche is expected to move into Moen's spot on the third line with Dominic Moore and Sergei Kostitsyn. Bergeron should take Darche's place on the fourth unit with Glen Metropolit and Maxim Lapierre.
Cammalleri was back at his old post on left wing with Andrei Kostitsyn and centre Tomas Plekanec, whose scoring pace has slowed of late. Kostitsyn has only two assists in 10 games since returning from his own injury after the Olympic break.
The stocky, quick-handed Cammalleri had six goals and five assists in the nine games before hurting his knee after a check from the Senators' Anton Volchenkov in a Jan. 30 game in Ottawa.
He was expected to be out six weeks but it ended up taking seven to heal. Now he hopes to pick up where he left off, but has no idea how long to will take to get back to full speed.
"You wonder how the game's going to be," he said. "Will it be fast? Are my hands ready? Is my speed ready? Am I shooting it where I want to? Do I remember the systems?
"You go through a checklist in your head, but you put the work in and when the game comes, you try to let instinct take over."
He was also working on the power play, although his contribution has come mainly at even strength. Only four of his 26 goals have been with the man advantage.
It is Bergeron and his cannon shot that should boost the power play, which remains second-best in the league with a 22.8 per cent success rate but is only 5-for-37 (14.8 per cent) since the Olympic break.
The slow-moving veteran is considered a risk at his natural position on defence. He is used at forward at even strength, but plays the point with Andrei Markov on the power play.
"The power play is a team thing," Bergeron cautioned. "I'm not the saviour here or anything.
"I just want to do my part and do as good as I can at what I'm good at and hopefully help the team."
After playing for Slovakia at the Olympics, Jaroslav Halak was given a rest as Price started in a 4-1 victory in Boston and a 3-2 loss in San Jose on March 4. Halak has played every game since, running off six wins in a row before a 3-2 overtime defeat in Toronto on Saturday and Monday night's loss to Ottawa.
Martin never announces who his starting goalie will be until game day, but it was clear Price would be back in goal against Buffalo. He has done better than Halak against the Sabres this season, posting a 2-1 win and 1-0 loss, while Halak suffered defeats of 6-2 and 4-3.
"I've had a lot of practice time and I feel pretty confident and ready to get back in there," said Price. "The first 10 minutes will be important to me - to get in there and make a few saves and get back into the groove again."
The Canadiens, who have nine regular-season games remaining, are 7-2-1 since the Olympics and are battling Ottawa, Philadelphia, Boston and perhaps Atlanta for the final four East playoff positions.