NHL Hockey

Canucks-Canadiens Preview

Carey Price is ready, and Claude Julien is letting him roll.

The 12-year veteran will return when the Montreal Canadiens host the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.

Price, the Canadiens' top goaltender, has been out since Dec. 23 with an undisclosed lower-body injury. Julien was non-committal after practice on Wednesday, but the coach confirmed Thursday that Price would play.

Price went 8-4-0 in December despite feeling the effects of an injury that he said he sustained several weeks before landing on injured reserve. Although Julien noted Price has participated in only one practice since his hiatus, the netminder said Wednesday he expected to play.

"Obviously, it's nice to get some time off and get (the injury) settled down and start feeling normal again," Price added.Price also said he would play for the Atlantic Division All-Star team after being selected on Wednesday.

The Canadiens went 2-1-0 with backup Antti Niemi filling a starting role while Price was out. The Habs are enjoying a resurgence after being in the doldrums at this time in 2018. Montreal has won six of its past nine games, with the latest win coming New Year's Eve at Dallas. Julien's crew is in contention for a playoff spot after missing the postseason by a wide margin in 2017-18.

The group will also get winger Joel Armia back from a 25-game absence due to an upper-body injury, though winger Andrew Shaw (neck) will not play after being placed on injured reserve.

Meanwhile, Canucks coach Travis Green also faces an interesting decision on his starting goaltender as Vancouver plays the second of back-to-back games.

Green must decide whether to continue with hot starter Jacob Markstrom, who has nine wins in his past 10 games, including a 4-3 overtime victory over the Senators on Wednesday at Ottawa. The other option would be to rest Markstrom and go with newly acquired backup Mike McKenna.

The Canucks acquired McKenna, a 35-year-old journeyman with limited NHL experience, on Wednesday in a multiplayer trade with Ottawa involving fringe players and a low draft pick. McKenna dressed Vancouver's backup Wednesday after starting the day as a Senator. (Former Canucks No. 2 goaltender Anders Nilsson was on Ottawa's bench after also switching teams in the deal.)

Since Vancouver was making a short trip from Montreal and McKenna is not destined to be with the Canucks long, Green could go back to Markstrom. However, the Canucks play in Toronto on Saturday and Markstrom is virtually certain to start that contest, so giving him a start against the Canadiens would mean he'd play three times in four days.

McKenna, a St. Louis native, has now donned the jerseys of 21 different pro teams in three leagues. He will likely be moving to another one, Vancouver's AHL farm team in Utica, N.Y., relatively soon.

Canucks general manager Jim Benning said on a conference call that the team will promote top goaltending prospect Thatcher Demko from Utica in the near future.

"We'll look at our options here the next couple days," Benning said, "but one of the things we wanted to do was to make room and get (Demko) up here and get him going (in the NHL)."

Heading into the Thursday contest, the Canucks have won nine of their past 13 games. Price could help thwart the duo of Vancouver rookie center Elias Pettersson and sophomore winger Brock Boeser, who combined for five points against the Senators.

Pettersson recorded a hat trick, including the winner in overtime, and Boeser provided two assists. The three-goal night, the first of Pettersson's career, came after the 20-year-old Swede was selected to the Pacific Division All-Star team earlier in the day. He now has 10 multi-point games in the first 37 contests of his NHL career.

"He's just getting better," Green told reporters.

Updated January 3, 2019

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