BROSSARD, Que. – Colby Armstrong has a chance to get back at the team that dumped him in his first game as a Montreal Canadien.
The gritty forward is expected to be in the line-up when the Canadiens open the lockout-shortened NHL season at home against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
It will be a fitting Canadiens debut for the 30-year-old, who signed a one-year, US$1 million contract with Montreal the day after the Leafs bought out the final season of his three-year, $9 million contract last summer.
“I don’t think it could be any better,” Armstrong said Monday. “There’s no better team to play than the team I played for last year.
“There’ll be a little more on the line, so it will be exciting.”
Armstrong, forward Brandon Prust and defenceman Francis Bouillon were signed in the off-season to bring a little grit and competitiveness to an undersized Canadiens team that finished last in the Eastern Conference last season.
The Saskatoon product has been skating on the fourth line with physical winger Ryan White and prospects Brendan Gallagher and Gabriel Dumont this week.
That suggests lower expectations for the former first-round draft pick who was a bust the last two seasons in Toronto, where he played only 79 games largely due to injury.
The Leafs opted to cut him loose, and now he’ll be wearing red, white and blue as the Toronto-Montreal rivalry resumes.
“I was on the other side of it, but coming here after what happened with me the last couple of years, and with the buyout, I want to kick their (backside),” he said. “That’s what I’m hoping for, especially at home right out of the gate. I’d like to get a ‘W’ against them.”
Signing Armstrong and Bouillon came on the recommendation of new coach Michel Therrien, who has had both on his teams before.
Armstrong and Therrien both started with Pittsburgh in 2005-06. Armstrong was traded to Atlanta in 2008, before Therrien took the Penguins to the 2009 Stanley Cup final.
He even knew new Canadiens assistant coach Gerard Gallant, who was on the coaching staff when Armstrong scored the gold medal-wining goal against Finland at the 2007 IIHF world championship.
“The three of us just have to play our game,” Armstrong said of the team’s new players. “Frankie’s been around and he’s played here before.
“There’s no secret to what he does. He’s a steady, solid guy and he also brings that physical element. He’s a tough guy to play against. Same with Prusty. He’s a pit bull.”
The scrappy Prust signed a three year, $10 million deal while 37-year-old Bouillon signed for one year at $1.5 million.
The stocky five-foot-eight Bouillon was captain of a Therrien-coached team in Granby, Que. that won a Memorial Cup in 1996, and was with Montreal when Therrien held his first NHL coaching job from 2000-01 until he was fired during the 2002-03 campaign.
The Canadiens cut Bouillon loose in 2009 and he played the last three seasons in Nashville.
“I was hoping that Michel would get the job, but I didn’t know what would happen,” said Bouillon, who had offers from two other clubs but jumped at the chance to return to his home town. “That’s the type of players he likes to have.
“I wasn’t surprised when I saw they signed Prust and Colby. Last year everyone was saying it was easy to play in Montreal. Prust made the right comment when he said it’s not going to be easy any more.”
Prust was on left wing in New York, but even before the lockout Therrien planned to try him at centre. He has skated between Rene Bourque and Travis Moen in camp.
The Canadiens are missing centres Tomas Plekanec (day-to-day with sore ribs) and Petteri Nokelainen (back), and sent centre Scott Gomez home for the season on Sunday with the intention of buying him out next summer.
But it’s clear Therrien wants some toughness at that position from Prust.
“I played centre my whole life and even my first couple of years as a pro,” the 28-year-old said. “It’s been a while, but it’s a position I enjoy and I like the responsibility as well.
“But with Plekanec coming back, who knows who is going to play there?”
Prust took time during practice for a little play-fighting with the feisty White.
“We’re both working on our conditioning,” he said. “In a fight, it’s a different type of conditioning. You’ve got to get your lungs so that you can hang in there for a while.”
The talk of the day was of impressive rookie Alex Galchenyuk, who put sweet dekes on backup goalie Peter Budaj during a shootout competition — first to the forehand, then the backhand.
The third overall pick in the June draft is trying to crack the line-up straight out of junior hockey.
“You’re not going to keep a guy because he’s got skill on the shootout, it’s more about his all around game,” said Therrien. “But one thing he showed today is that he’s got tremendous skill.
“We’ve got a special player.”
There was no news on holdout defenceman P.K. Subban, a restricted free agent who hopes to sign a new contract this week.