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Ryder on 4th line. Both among Canadiens' walking wounded as club prepares for Panthers
PAT HICKEY, The Gazette
Published: Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said he wasn't trying to confuse anyone when he used four players on the No. 1 line during practice yesterday.

"I wasn't thinking that you guys would make anything of it," said Carbonneau, who alternated Michael Ryder and Alex Kovalev at right wing on a line with Saku Koivu and Christopher Higgins.

It seems that Kovalev is suffering from an undisclosed, but minor, upper-body injury and wasn't comfortable participating in certain drills. But Carbonneau said both players will be in the lineup tonight when the Canadiens entertain the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., RDS, CJAD Radio-800).

Neither Ryder nor Kovalev were available to comment on their status because they went to a hospital after the 75-minute workout. Kovalev went to have doctors look at the upper-body injury, while Ryder needed stitches after taking a puck off his right ear in the late stages of the practice.

The flip-flop at right wing touched off speculation over how the Canadiens would line up for tonight's game, but fans can count on seeing Kovalev start the game on the top line, with Ryder on the fourth line.

Neither player has generated much goodwill in recent games. Kovalev was benched for most of the third period of Saturday's 5-3 loss to Ottawa. Carbonneau sat him after his turnover in the first minute of the third period led to Ottawa's winning goal.

Ryder has been on the top line for most of the season, but was demoted for the Ottawa game. He has been in an offensive slump, but he's in the doghouse because he hasn't been playing well defensively and is a team-worst minus-21.

The questions about the four-man line led to some light-hearted banter in the Canadiens' dressing room. When someone suggested that four into three didn't go, Koivu said: "Good math."

And Higgins suggested the Canadiens might be starting a new trend, explaining: "We've used four defencemen at one time; why not four forwards?"

The light-hearted nature of the practice was in stark contrast to the Canadiens' desperate position in the playoff race. Montreal has dropped to seventh place and is only three points ahead of ninth-place Toronto.

And they face a tough battle tonight, even if Florida is 14th in the Eastern Conference standings.

Florida has a 2-1 edge over the Canadiens this season and Montreal's only win came in a shootout after the teams finished the overtime tied 0-0.

"Every club has a team that gives them a lot of trouble and, for us, Florida has been that team," said Carbonneau,who emphasized the importance of not letting the other team score the first goal as it has in the Canadiens' last eight games.

Cristobal Huet will get the start in goal and he'll be trying

to break a three-game losing streak.

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