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Broken hand sidelines Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges for four weeks

Montreal Canadiens' Josh Georges

The Canadian Press

Hockey players occasionally get days off, but apparently their doctors don't.

As the Montreal Canadiens took a second rest day after a long and frustrating Western road swing, defenceman Josh Gorges underwent a surgical procedure on Monday to fix a fracture in his left hand - the result of a blocked shot in a recent game against the Toronto Maple Leafs - and will be out of action for a month.

Teammate Michael Bournival, who has been out with a concussion since taking an inadvertent stick to the chin from the Habs' Dale Weise on Feb. 6, also had a date with the team physicians on Monday to assess his recovery; he has been practicing in a non-contact jersey for several days, the hope is plainly that he will be cleared for full contact.

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And while no one's confirming that goaltender Carey Price, who tweaked a long-standing leg injury in his first practice back from his gold medal-winning turn in Sochi, was meeting with the medical staff on Monday, the fact he skated on his own might lead one to draw the conclusion.

So what to make of all of this?

Let's start with Gorges, because he's the one about whom the most is known. The team has confirmed it expects P.K. Subban's most frequent defence partner to be out for a period of four weeks, which makes the deadline week acquisition of journeyman Florida Panthers d-man Mike Weaver all the more providential.

But if Gorges is to be out for an extended period, the Habs will need to consider something other than Band-Aid solutions.

More to the point, they'll need to decide who to play with Subban, and whether they can go forward down the stretch drive with a bottom pairing of Weaver and Douglas Murray.

Gorges, the poster child for steadiness, was leading the team in blocked shots when he went down (and was second in the league), he played on the Habs' top penalty killing unit, and often faced the opposition's first or second line. The B.C. native isn't a world beater on the back end, but he's a known quantity, and consistent.

Rookie Jarred Tinordi was tried in his spot alongside Subban in both Phoenix and San Jose, but the experiment yielded mixed results, even if it's unfair to judge Tinordi on a small sample size.

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Indeed, the coaching staff has increasingly relied on Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin for tough assignments and bumped up Murray's minutes; the (let's be kind) ponderous Swede has only played more than 17 minutes only nine times this season, five of those occasions have come in the last six games.

Murray's solid on the penalty kill, but at five-on-five he's among the very worst possession-driving players in the league, and in a stats-driven world, he would be the first guy bumped to the press box (next would surely be Emelin, who's been largely awful since returning from the Olympics).

But this is pro hockey, and the eyeball test, gut feelings and intangibles (like physical play) matter.

It will be interesting to see in the coming days - Montreal won't play until Wednesday, when the Bruins come to town - how the blue line shakes out.

Could Nathan Beaulieu get a call-up from Hamilton for a turn with Subban (who has six points in his last five games)? He could. Will they stick with Tinordi? Might they even stick both Tinordi and Beaulieu in the lineup at the expense of Murray or Emelin (doubtful, but it would be interesting to see)? Stay tuned.

Bournival's eventual return also prompts a few questions.

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When the speedy 21-year-old is healthy, he provides a decent complement to the second or third line, and a luxury option the fourth.

With the expected return of hard case forward Brandon Prust against the Bruins, coach Michel Therrien may prefer to keep Bournival in the press box in favour of penalty-killer Travis Moen, but in the coming weeks Bournival could provide some zip and offence to the bottom six.

The acquisition of Thomas Vanek and where he fits in the lineup - bet on him being tried again with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais - will surely have a cascading effect on players like Bournival, Weise, Ryan White, and even Daniel Brière, who may also get a shot at playing more regularly with Vanek, his former Sabres teammate.

But the Habs' fourth line has never looked better this year than when it included Bournival, White and Weise Finally, the most consequential question of all: what's with Price?

Backup Peter Budaj provided yeoman service until the latter stages of the Western sojourn, his games against Phoenix and San Jose will have dented his confidence however.

Without Price, the Habs are a mediocre possession team that has trouble generating offence; with him, they are a speedy, defence-first team that can afford to be opportunistic. In other words, a different team.

If you need statistical evidence to back up your angst over the Price injury: despite shaping up their puck possession game, the Habs have allowed an average of 3.43 goals per game since he went out, a full goal per game above the season average.

Should Price continue to be unable to play, the considerable presence of 6-foot-6 goalie Devan Dubnyk, acquired on deadline day and currently playing in the minors, will loom larger.

There are some unconfirmed reports floating around about what exactly ails him (it appears to be a chronic problem with his right knee that predates the Olympics), but the fact he has now missed seven games isn't encouraging.

Last week Price said that if it were the playoffs, he'd be in, but if he doesn't return to action soon - say this week - and the Habs keep dropping points, it's going to start feeling an awful lot like post-season style desperation.

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More


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