After playing back-to-back games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators, the Canadiens were given the day off from practice Thursday.
“After a back-to-back, it’s more just about rest and recovery, trying to get the body feeling as good as possible for tomorrow’s practice,” defenceman Ben Chiarot said Thursday morning at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, following a 5-2 loss in Columbus on Tuesday and a 2-1 overtime loss at the Bell Centre on Wednesday. “So sauna, stretch, hot tubs, cold tubs, get some good food in you. So it’s just about recovery after back-to-back games.”
Added Joel Armia: “We’ve played a lot of games here, so it’s good if you want to do a workout or just recovery stuff. So it’s good to have a kind of like maintenance day.”
Victor Mete sounded like he was fighting off some kind of virus and could use the day off from practice.
“For sure I’m a little bit under the weather, but feeling better,” Mete said.
Chiarot, Armia, Mete and Nick Cousins were the only four players made available to the media on Thursday. Coach Claude Julien took a day off from speaking with the media.
The only players who went on the ice were defencemen Christian Folin and Mike Reilly, along with backup goalie Keith Kinkaid. They were joined by goalie coach Stéphane Waite. Folin has been a healthy scratch for the last 14 games and Reilly has been scratched the last six games.
Cousins knows new Leafs coach
Cousins knows new Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe, who replaced the fired Mike Babcock on Wednesday after Toronto got off to a 9-10-4 start and was in a six-game winless streak (0-5-1).
Keefe, who had been coaching the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, coached Cousins during his last season of junior hockey with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds in 2012-13.
“He’s a good coach for them,” Cousins said. “I think he’s the perfect fit for the Leafs. When he came in (with the Greyhounds) he was hard on me at first and maybe I didn’t like it at the start. But I think now, looking back at it , I remember at the end of the season I was like it’s probably exactly what I needed at that point in my career. So I got to give him a lot of credit for that.
“He’s a player’s coach,” added Cousins, who had 27-76-103 totals in 64 games during his final season with the Greyhounds. “He was awesome for me down in junior. He lets guys play but, at the same time, he holds you accountable, so I wish him nothing but the best.”
Keefe was set to make his debut behind the Maple Leafs bench Thursday night in Arizona against the Coyotes.
Adjusting to new team
The Canadiens signed Cousins to a one-year, US$1-million contract as a free agent on July 5 after he spent the last two seasons with the Arizona Coyotes. Philadelphia selected Cousins in the third round (68th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft and he spent three seasons with the Flyers before getting traded to Arizona.
What does Cousins like about this Canadiens team?
“I think we’re balanced,” he said. “All four lines can play and all four lines contribute on any given night. I think that’s just the depth we have on our team. Claude likes to roll all four lines and get everybody involved. That’s the recipe for success, I think, if you can keep everybody involved. I feel like in today’s NHL you need all four lines to play and contribute and that’s what we have.
“With the injuries that we have right now (to Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron) it’s a chance for guys to step up,” added Cousins, who has 2-5-7 totals in 16 games. “Charles (Hudon) came up and he’s been playing well for us. I think that was KK’s (Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s) best game last night and he’s only going to get better. It’s been fun to see those guys step up.”
Cousins is living in Montreal with his fiancée, Nina Pizans. She’s a former competitive dancer with a Bachelor of Arts from York University majoring in dance and was captain of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors Dance Pak.
“We live out on Nuns’ Island, so it’s just 5-7 minutes to downtown,” he said. “A lot of nice restaurants and stuff to eat at. We’re still new on the restaurant scene, but trying to try out as many as possible. There’s so many. My favourite spot is probably Jatoba. It’s really good food. It’s like Asian cuisine.”
Grey Cup party?
Chiarot is thinking about hosting a Grey Cup party for his teammates on Sunday when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats play the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Calgary, but wonders how many actually follow the CFL.
“We’ll see … maybe I’ll get some of the guys over and watch the game, something like that,” said Chiarot, who is from Hamilton. “All the Canadian guys that care. Shea (Weber) follows it a little bit. All the guys that enjoy football enjoy the CFL. There’s a couple of guys … Gally (Brendan Gallagher), Weby. Some of the Western Canadian guys, I know they take pride in some of the CFL teams. So there’s a couple of guys, but not a whole lot.”
Chiarot’s grandfather, Gord Chiarot, was a defensive lineman with the Tiger-Cats when they won the 1957 Grey Cup.
“My dad never let me play football,” Chiarot said. “They told me not to worry about playing football: ‘You can pick that up any time … you can play it in high school if you’re done with hockey or you’re not playing hockey any more.’ So they had me focus on hockey when I was growing up.”
The big hit
Chiarot was impressed by the bit hit rookie defenceman Cale Fleury put on Vladislav Namestnikov in the first period of Wednesday’s game, knocking the Senators forward out of the game with a lower-body injury.
“He catches guys off-guard because he just looks like a fresh-faced kid,” Chiarot said about the 20-year-old Fleury, who is 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds. “But when he throws his body into guys they bounce off him pretty good. He’s caught a couple of guys off-guard early on.
“He’s a thick kid … he’s pretty dense,” Chiarot added. “His body’s dense. He’s a big kid and he’s strong. He’s only 20, 21 years old, so as he matures and gets even stronger he’ll be a force out there.”
The Canadiens have a practice scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard before facing the New York Rangers Saturday at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., CITY, SNE, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).
Next week, the Canadiens have three home games with the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on Tuesday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio), followed by the New Jersey Devils on Thursday (7:30 p.m., SN, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) and the Philadelphia Flyers for a rare Saturday afternoon game (3 p.m., SN, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).