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Canadian Press
Dec 2, 2006, 3:47 PM EST


MONTREAL (CP) - Mathieu Dandenault hopes he and Montreal Canadiens defence partner Francis Bouillon are through with injuries so they can get on with the season.

Dandenault was moved back on defence for a game Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs after a stint at forward following his Nov. 15 return from a thigh injury.

He was reunited with Bouillion, who made his season debut Nov. 22 after missing training camp and the first 19 games of the season following off-season knee surgery.

The two were a solid defence pair at both ends of the ice late last season and into the playoffs.

"It feels like my season hasn't really started yet," said Dandenault, who was injured only four games into the season. "But at least I had training camp.

"Francis only skated twice in the summer, so it's like he's going through his training camp now. But he's playing well for a guy who has hardly played this year."

With Bouillon out, the Canadiens had only second-year blue-liner Mark Streit in reserve. After bringing back veteran Patrick Traverse on waivers, then sending him to the minors, they dealt centre Mike Ribeiro to the Dallas Stars for veteran Janne Niinimaa.

Streit and Niinimaa saw regular action when both Bouillon and Dandenault were out, but their return left Montreal with eight healthy defencemen.

Dandenault, who played forward often during his nine seasons with Detroit before signing a four-year deal as a free agent with Montreal ahead of the 2005-06 season, has played himself back into shape mostly on the fourth line.

Bouillon has been slowly regaining his form on the third defence pair, but now coach Guy Carbonneau feels they are strong enough to play together again. Streit and Niinimaa were both healthy scratches on Saturday night, while winger Aaron Downey was to return to the lineup.

"They fit together well," Carbonneau said. "They're great friends and they talk a lot together.

"Francis has been back a couple of weeks, so I don't see a big adjustment for them."

The six-foot, 215-pound Dandenault and the stocky five-foot-eight, 200-pound Bouillon use strong skating and puckhandling to balance what they give away in size.

"Francis is a tremendous player," Dandenault said. "It's tough to go around him on the left side, so there are a lot of pucks to recover and move up to create something on offence."

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