It won’t take long for Thomas Vanek to get his first taste of the heated Montreal Canadiens-Boston Bruins rivalry.
The 30-year-old acquired by Montreal at last week’s NHL trade deadline will play his first home game at the Bell Centre against the Bruins on Wednesday night.
“Rivalries are for the fans,” Vanek said Tuesday. “They’re good for the league, but for us in here, and I’m sure it’s the same as everywhere. It’s just about winning the two points.
“But I’m sure the atmosphere will be great and I can’t wait to experience it.”
Vanek has a reputation as a Bruins killer, with 61 points in 53 career games against Boston. So the acquisition of the high-scoring forward by Montreal gave an added jolt to the rivalry.
But the Austrian winger said there are no secrets about how to score on the Bruins.
“Numbers are numbers,” he said. “Sometimes they’re overblown.
“I don’t prepare any different. It’s just another game, really. They’re a good team and you’ve got to be ready. The last four or five years, Boston has been one of the better teams in the league and you want to play your best against the best teams.”
The Canadiens are 2-0-0 against Boston this season and have won their last five meetings. But the Bruins (42-17-5) hold a comfortable 12-point lead over Montreal (35-24-7) in the Atlantic Division standings.
Vanek was acquired while the Canadiens were on a four-game west coast road trip. So he didn’t get in a full practice with his new team until it returned to Montreal.
He was held without a point in his first two games with Montreal while playing on the second line with centre Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.
Some feel he would do better on a more attack-oriented unit, as Plekanec is considered the club’s top defensive centre even if he can also contribute offensively.
“We’ve got to be good in our own zone and Plekanec is very good in all zones,” said Vanek. “He can make plays. He’s great in faceoffs, great defensively, but at the same time, we’re expected to produce.
“At least that’s what I’m expecting of myself.”
Coach Michel Therrien plans to keep the line together, at least for now.
“It takes time for players to adapt to new teammates,” said Therrien. “I want to be patient. I think that combination can work.”
Tuesday’s session, which lasted more than an hour at the Bell Centre, saw goalie Carey Price take part in a full practice for the first time since leading Canada to gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Price aggravated a suspected groin injury in his first practice after the Sochi Games.
Therrien said Price won’t dress for the Boston game but will be re-evaluated at the end of the week. That opens the possibility of playing Saturday at home against Ottawa.
Therrien also said Francis Bouillon, who has sat out the last seven games, will play.
Montreal is hurting on defence with veteran Josh Gorges out at least four weeks with a fractured left hand.
Gorges was hurt while blocking a shot during a 4-3 win over Toronto on March 1.
He played the first two games of Montreal’s road trip but then was sent home to have his hand re-examined.
Gorges said the original fracture was considered stable, so he could continue playing. But something happened during a win in Anaheim that made it unstable.
“At that point, they felt it was best to get it fixed,” he said. “Potentially, it might not have been able to heal at all so they decided to have it fixed now and have me back ready by the end of the year.”
He said playing through the injury was difficult, but possible.
“I was able to do what I needed to contribute,” he said. “Certain aspects were tough.
“Grabbing my stick. Grabbing the puck if I needed to clear it on the penalty kill. But I was still able to make passes, receive passes. As long as I wasn’t hurting the team, I was able to go.”