VANCOUVER — The first sign of trouble came when Dominick Saillant, the Canadiens’ public relations director, said coach Claude Julien would update the media on the state of Shea Weber’s health at the conclusion of the Monday morning practice at Rogers Arena.
There hadn’t been any concern 30 minutes earlier when the Canadiens hit the ice without Weber. Therapy days had become the norm since Weber missed six games in late November with a lower-body injury. But Saillant’s announcement foreshadowed the bad news from Julien.
“Shea’s been dealing with a problem with his foot and its got worse again so we’re going to send him home, and get him reevaluated” said Julien. “We’ve shut him down for the rest of this year.”
Julien refused to speculate on the severity of the injury or the length of time Weber might be out.
“He was still playing but he wasn’t feeling comfortable and we felt it was best to shut him down and find a solution for this,” said Julien.
With Weber out and Victor Mete off to the world junior championships, the Canadiens have been reduced to six healthy defencemen but Julien said there was no immediate plan to call up reinforcements from Laval. If Weber is out for any length of time, it would provide an opportunity for Brett Lernout or Noah Juulsen, the 2015 first-round draft pick who missed the start of the season with a broken foot. Juulsen has a goal and an assist in eight games with the Rocket.
The last time Weber was out, the Canadiens managed to weather the storm. They posted 4-1-1 record with Jeff Petry and Karl Alzner moving up to the No. 1 pairing and playing their best hockey of the season. It also helped that goaltender Carey Price came back from his own lower-body injury.
Julien used Monday’s practice to try out some different line combinations for Tuesday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks (10 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN Radio 690).
Max Pacioretty has been reunited with Jonathan Drouin and they’ll try to find the chemistry that wasn’t there in the beginning of the season. Paul Byron completes that line. Alex Galchenyuk moves to a line with Phillip Danault and Andrew Shaw. Pacioretty has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons and Galchenyuk has hit that mark once but neither is on a 30-goal pace this season. Pacioretty has eight goals and has scored only once in his last 15 games. Galchenyuk has seven goals.
“Every once in a while, you try to shake things up,” said Julien. “I didn’t mind what I saw today in our lines. You shake things up but it still boils down to our will and desire. We’ve shown the ability to play some real good hockey games but we haven’t shown the ability to be consistent, night in and night out. The biggest concern for us is how do we get consistent. It’s not matter of who plays with who but how committed we’re going to be.
“I understand that over 82 games, you’re not going to be perfect every night, but it’s the compete level and how much you want to get the puck,” added Julien. “We have to get better and puck retrievals, we have to get better at puck battles. Those gritty areas are where we have to be better.”
If there’s any concern over Carey Price’s workload, it’s overshadowed by the lack of confidence shown in backup Antti Niemi. Price has made 10 consecutive starts since returning from a lower-body injury. He is 6-3-1 in his current run but his number for the season — 9-10-2 record with a 2.99 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage — are well below expectations.