Right wing Brian Gionta will return to the Canadiens lineup tomorrow night against the Tampa Bay after missing eleven games with a groin injury.   His return will make for some interesting lineup decisions for Randy Cunneyworth and his assistants.

On Wednesday night against Winnipeg, Cunneyworth went with eleven forwards and seven defencemen.  It’s clear in hindsight that Cunneyworth’s game plan including double shifting Erik Cole throughout the game.  In fact he triple-shifted him, playing him on the fourth line in the third period.  His minutes-played in the game reached an unreal 27:04.    The coach is indicating he may do the same thing again against Tampa Saturday night.  He’s also talking about dressing seven defencemen again, which, on close examination seems a little strange since Brian Gionta is coming back into the lineup after missing eleven games with a groin injury.

If seven defencemen are dressed then one of the forwards would have to be dropped to make room for Gionta.   Doesn’t seem likely to me.

At Friday’s practice, Gionta was slotted on a physically unimposing line with Plekanec and Cammalleri.   I suspect that Gionta will get about twelve minutes ice time and the remaining six or seven minutes Plekanec and Cammalleri receive will be alongside the Cole doubleshift.

Logic would indicated that the Canadiens use 12 forwards and six defencemen.  That would probably mean Weber and Campoli in the Bell Centre press box.   It may sound logical, but that doesn’t mean the coach thinks that way.

Here is the way they practiced Friday










…..Alexei Emelin was struck on the left cheek bone by a Yannick Weber slapshot during Friday’s practice Friday.  He’s going to be all right we’re told and probably will play against Tampa, albeit with a badly swollen left cheek.  Emelin suffered an fractured eye socket orbital bone in a fight with Alexander Svitov in theKontinental Hockey League two years ago.  He missed the rest of the season and doctors replaced part of the broken bone with a titanium plate.  Svitov, who suckerpunched Emelin while he was lying on the ice, was handed a four game suspension for the incident.  (You can see video of the March 2009 KHL fight between Emelin and Svitov here.)

……..Krys Barch of the Florida Panthers will receive a one game suspension for “inappropriate language”, whatever that means in the profane world of professional sports.   A linesman threw Barch out of the New Year’s Eve game against the Canadiens after he heard what he took to be a racial slur directed at P.K. Subban.  Subban says he didn’t hear it.    Two sources told the Miami Herald that, aside from the foul language, Barch asked Subban if he “slipped on a banana peel” after his legs went  out from under him after being punched by Gudbranson.  There is a racial context to that, but it is really pretty mild stuff.  One game is enough on this one.

……Is this a negotiating play or does the NHL Player’s Association really have a beef about the league’s plans to re-align for next year?   The NHLPA has blocked the move for reasons they won’t specify.  The leauge governors plan was to change from six divisions to four conferences.  Approval from the players was necessary to implement the change.   Instead the NHL will maintain its current alignment and playoff format for next season.

In the proposed change the Canadiens would play in a seven team conference with Ottawa, Toronto, Boston, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay.  The other Eastern time zone conference would hold  New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Washington and Carolina. other.