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Canadiens Notebook: Habs now looking at season in seven-game segments


“It’s just short-term goals that can help the big picture and the morale,” new head coach Martin St. Louis says.

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When Martin St. Louis took over as head coach of the Canadiens he wanted to break the rest of the season down to seven-game segments.

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Each segment was the equivalent of a playoff series and he wanted the Canadiens to try to win every series.

Things didn’t get off to a great start when the Canadiens lost their first three games with St. Louis behind the bench. But they have won five straight since then, meaning they won the first seven-game segment and are up 1-0 in the second segment heading into Tuesday’s game against the Jets in Winnipeg (8 p.m., TSN2, TSN3, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

“I’ve been on teams that we were out of the playoffs and we’ve done that … I’ve been part of that,” St. Louis, who had a Hall of Fame playing career, said after practice Monday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard. “It’s just short-term goals that can help the big picture and the morale and I thought it was important when I took the job that we establish something to fight for and our goals to try to obtain.”

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Nick Suzuki said every Canadiens player was looking for a fresh start when St. Louis took over from Dominique Ducharme, who had an 8-30-7 record before being fired on Feb. 9. The Canadiens were unable to win two games in a row this season under Ducharme.

“The season hasn’t been great, but since Marty came I think we’ve had more success,” Suzuki said. “I think we’re trying to take it as a new season. We have a winning record since Marty took over, so we’ll keep that.”

Tuesday’s game in Winnipeg is the first in a four-game Western Canada road trip for the Canadiens that includes stops in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Only two of St. Louis’s first eight games have been on the road — a 3-2 shootout victory over the New York Islanders and a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.

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“The NHL is a very tough league, serious league, but you got to have some fun,” St. Louis said about the road trip. “The road does that and brings guys closer. For me to get to be with my team a little more — because when we’re home they just go home. Now they get on the bus, they get in the meal rooms. You get a little bit of a feel how everyone interacts with everyone. So you get to know your players a little bit. I think the road is really important for a team.”

Defenceman Jeff Petry, whose play has improved dramatically since St. Louis took over, said it does feel like a new season with the new coach.

“Since he’s come in he’s brought a fresh new approach, which has been paying off,” Petry said. “I think the practices are high-paced, but they’re fun. Those little competitive (three-on-three) games are nice. They’re not just games … it’s making you have to make reads with the puck and possess the puck. So I think everything he does and brings translates to what he wants to see in games and I think just his approach and the way his message is brought has brought some fun back in the room. This is a first-time coach, but everyone knows what he’s done in his career and the way he thinks the game, he’s got a lot of things that when you’re looking at video or you’re looking at a play that you normally wouldn’t think about. Little tips here and there.

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“I relate it to how I spoke about Luke (Richardson) in the past about just little things that don’t really cross your mind when you’re looking at a play,” Petry added. “It’s just little things that you can do a little different that have a big impact. I think he brings a lot of those helpful tips.”

Petry said a key to the Canadiens’ recent success under St. Louis has been spending less time in the defensive zone.

“That gives you the energy to get up in the play, to possess the puck in the O zone and I think not spending a lot of time in the D zone. When you’re moving the puck up quicker you’re not at the end of your shift and having to dump it in and basically give the puck back to them so they’re coming back out for the next line out. Just the way we’re playing defensively, killing plays, getting the puck on our stick.”

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Anderson dodges bullet

Josh Anderson was fortunate not to be seriously injured after taking a puck in the face during last Wednesday’s 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres at the Bell Centre.

Anderson was forced to leave the game, but was back in the lineup Saturday night in Ottawa, sporting a black eye. Anderson said his vision was a bit blurry for a few seconds after getting hit with the puck.

“I was pretty worried,” he said Monday. “Any time you have an incident like that with the puck going anywhere near your face or your head … it was very scary when it first happened. You only get one set of eyes, so I think it was very fortunate that it got a piece of my visor. There’s a million things going around in your head that you’re thinking of when that happens like that. I got taken good care of with the medical staff that we have and then went right to the hospital for imaging and everything was good from there.”

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No. 1 line is clicking

The Canadiens’ top line of Suzuki between Cole Caufield and Anderson has been on fire since St. Louis took over as head coach.

In the eight games, Suzuki has 3-2-5 totals, Caufield has 6-4-10 and Anderson has 3-2-5.

“It’s been a ton of fun playing with those two,” Suzuki said. “As a line we kind of have it all — size, speed, playmaking ability — and both my guys can shoot the puck really well. So it’s been a ton of fun playing with them. Just looking to find open space. I know Andy’s going to be around the net and Cole’s been playing really well lately. It’s a lot of fun to be in our situation and hopefully we continue playing with each other.”

While St. Louis has said he prefers concepts over systems, Suzuki said it’s not just everyone using their own instincts under the new head coach.

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“There’s some concepts in place that he’s brought to the team,” Suzuki said. “For me, just making those reads he’s talking about. Using my brain to anticipate plays. Playing with Andy and Cole we have a good chemistry and see the ice the same way. For me it’s just distributing the puck, getting to the net and making plays. That’s what I’m best at.”

Anderson has been very impressed by the 22-year-old Suzuki, who has a new eight-year, US$63-million contract that kicks in next season with an annual salary-cap hit of $7.875 million.

“He’s been the player that everyone knows he can be,” Anderson said. “He’s playing with a whole bunch of confidence and he’s making a lot of skilled plays out there. Listen, this guy’s a pretty special player and that’s why we’ve got him here for a long time. You’re seeing him play on both ends of the ice and making smart decisions, whether that’s on PK, power play or five-on-five. He’s a big part of our team and we need to see him keep producing like he is.”

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Improving on faceoffs

Suzuki has won more than 50 per cent of his faceoffs in each the last nine games and 10 of the last 11. He went 14-6 on his 20 faceoffs against the Senators Saturday night (70 per cent), improving his percentage for the season to 49.6.

“I don’t know if I’ve changed my approach,” Suzuki said about taking faceoffs. “I think I’ve been more confident going into faceoffs. I think that’s kind of been a big thing in my faceoff taking is just going in with a lot of confidence that I can go against any centre and snap them back. I think the last 10 games have been a lot better and hopefully I can continue that.”

Edmundson close to returning?

Defenceman Joel Edmundson, who has been sidelined all season with a back injury, took part in Monday’s practice in a full-contact sweater.

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Edmundson flew to Winnipeg with his teammates Monday afternoon, but won’t be in the lineup Tuesday against the Jets. St. Louis said he’s not sure if Edmundson will play on the Western Canada road trip.

“He’s an amazing guy, on and off the ice,” Anderson said about Edmundson. “He’s a true leader for all the guys in that locker room. With this year being tough with the injury that he’s had, he still feels part of our team. He’s in there every single day working hard, doing the things that he needs to do and I know a lot of guys in that locker room look up to him.

“Last year, he was a huge part of our team, being in our top four defencemen,” Anderson added. “I know playing against him in the first couple of years he’s that steady guy that you don’t want to be on the ice with him because you’re going to get a pretty good whack and it’s going to be tough to score goals against him. He is a great presence and we’re very fortunate to have him.

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“I’m happy for him to be back on the same schedule as the players and being in practices with us and he’s right there. You could just see the smile on his face and the confidence in the last couple of days being back with the team.”

What’s next?

The Canadiens will fly to Calgary after Tuesday’s game in Winnipeg, practise at the Saddledome on Wednesday and then play the Flames Thursday (9 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The Canadiens will fly to Edmonton after Thursday’s game, practice there Friday and then play the Oilers Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The Canadiens will fly to Vancouver after Saturday’s game and enjoy a day off on Sunday. They will practice Monday and Tuesday in Vancouver before facing the Canucks on Wednesday (10:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The Canadiens will fly back to Montreal the next day.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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