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Canadiens Game Day: Proud papa Phillip Danault returns to lineup

Canadiens Game Day: Proud papa Phillip Danault returns to lineup
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There were 10 skaters and two goaltenders on the ice and the only news was that the three players who missed practice Wednesday — Shea Weber, Carey Price and Phillip Danault — were on the ice.

Weber and Price took the day off Wednesday for some rest, while Danault was excused after his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child — a boy named Phillip-Édouard — at 5:23 a.m. Wednesday.

“It’s been a crazy couple of days,” said Danault, who skipped Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets after his wife went into labour. “I’m glad the baby came now before we go on the road, and I’m glad we won and we’re back in the playoffs.”

Canadiens fans celebrate with Phillip Danault after his second-period goal against the Florida Panthers in Montreal on Jan. 15, 2019. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

Danault acknowledged that February has been a good month for him. He was traded to the Canadiens on Feb. 26, 2015, and now there’s a February birthday to celebrate.

“Some good things have happened (in February) but now I’m looking for something good in June,” said Danault, referring to the month in which they hand out the Stanley Cup.

Newcomer Nate Thompson filled in for Danault on Tuesday and had a strong game, winning 10 of 15 faceoffs.

“Thompson came in last game and did a great job in (Danault’s) absence, but when Phil comes back to the lineup it gives us a little more depth up the middle,” said Canadiens head coach Claude Julien.

Danault is having a career season with 40 points, including 11 goals, and he has a plus/minus rating of plus-15 while playing against the opposition’s top lines.

“I think it’s experience,” Julien said when asked about Danault’s improvement. “In the faceoff circle, he’s taken a lot of pride in getting better there and he’s been asked to do a lot this year because we’re a team that has an 18-year-old centre (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) so there’s a little bit more pressure for him to step into certain situations, like late in the game, key faceoffs, that kind of stuff. I think he’s embraced that, he’s loving the challenge.

“A lot of players have progressed this year and it’s always easier to progress when you’re in a positive situation, which we’ve been as compared to last year,” added Julien.

The Flyers have been making a late-season push for the playoffs and have a 13-3-1 record in their last 17 games. They have best faceoff record in the NHL (55.9 per cent) and that poses a challenge for Danault, who leads the Canadiens with a 53.57-per-cent success rate on draws.

“I know (Claude) Giroux (59.66 per cent) is good and Sean Couturier (57.11), too, so we have to make sure we bear down on the faceoffs and the wingers have to help, too,” Danault said.

“I was focused on being better physically, mentally, on the ice. And I’ve got the kid now and it’s been a good year, and now you want to make the playoffs and move on,” said Danault. “I think the most improvement has been defensively. I bring the maturity in my game so I can play against the big lines. By playing good defensively, I bring the offence.”

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