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Canadiens look for answers at blue line, centre ahead of final pre-season week

Heading into the last week of pre-season, the Montreal Canadiens are still working on filling their two biggest holes — at centre and on the blue line.

One of Montreal’s biggest losses is captain and first pairing defenceman Shea Weber, who will miss most of the season due to injuries. For fellow defenceman Jeff Petry, the most challenging part of not having their captain to count on for the season will be loss of his leadership.

“The toughest part will be the leadership that he brought to room and to our group so that’s obviously going to fall on a lot of us as well,” Petry said. “We’ll need to be more vocal, a bigger presence in the room to help fill that void in leadership.”

Petry added that the entire defensive corps will need to “step forward and there’s going to be more on everybody’s plates.”

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Currently paired with sophomore Alexander Romanov during pre-season, Petry brushed away doubts that the Russian could step up in his second season in the NHL.

“I think there are few players that come in year one and they’re already there,” Petry said. “A good way to go through that is to experience it, to play the games and to be in that situation.”

“I look at him and I look at the player I was and I think there are a lot of similarities,” Petry added.

Read more: COVID-19: Quebec eases capacity restrictions for sports, cultural venues with assigned seating

Petry’s regular partner, Joel Edmundson, is still bothered by an injury. The two played the majority of the 2020-21 season together and the option to reunite them when the time comes is still on the table for head coach Dominique Ducharme.

“We`ll need to see when he comes back and we’ll need to see our whole lineup to know what’s better for us but to know we could come back to that is reassuring,” Ducharme said.

Centre Ryan Poehling will have an important weekend ahead of him as the Canadiens take on the Ottawa Senators in back-to-back games Friday and Saturday. Montreal lost Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Philip Danault during the off-season and while the acquisition of Christian Dvorak from Arizona took care of the top six, the centre situation is still in question for the bottom two lines.

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“It’s really go time and there’s no excuses,” Poehling said.

Poehling will be playing alongside Artturi Lehkonen and Gabriel Bourque. The centre took part in the Canadiens’ 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs but remains confident that he can punch a spot on the team.

“Everyone in the NHL can play both ways, I feel. It’s just such a fast game and there’s not anyone that’s just out there keeping the puck out of the back of the net,” Poehling said. “There are obviously guys that are more offensive than others but, for me, I have to be good defensively but I can also produce offensively.”

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“You don’t have ten or 12 games. Those are games that you won’t get back. When the door opens you need to get in,” Ducharme said about Poehling’s weekend.

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Montreal fans received the good news on Thursday that the Bell Centre will be able to allow its full capacity of 21,302 fans in time for the start of the regular season. Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dube announced the lifting of some restrictions on cultural and sports venues starting Oct. 8.

Ducharme, who has yet to experience a full-capacity Bell Centre as head coach, welcomed the news and added that fans play a role in Canadiens home games.

“It definitely gives an added energy,” Ducharme said. “I also think that it’s a good thing for the people, that they can be rewarded like that, whether it’s for the Bell Centre or other areas it’s a good thing.”

Read more: Canadiens down Maple Leafs 5-2 in pre-season game

Petry had an emotional response to what home fans and playing at the Bell Centre meant to him. Home fans and their energy not only played a role in his team’s games but also played a role in his decision to remain a Hab.

“I don’t think there’s a better place in this league to win and we were close to doing that last year,” Petry said. “With the circumstances that were in play last year, we didn’t get to fully experience our building even during a long run.

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“I’m excited and looking forward to that but just to see the passion around the team when we were in that stretch, fans outside, fans everywhere. It was a very exciting place to play and that’s what played a big part in my decision to re-sign here after the trade.”

The Canadiens will play their first game with full capacity since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic on Oct. 16, when they face the New York Rangers in their regular-season home opener.

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