Canadiens defenseman Yannick Weber has often said he’ll play wherever the team wants. Three weeks into the season, though, it’s pretty clear that the back end is where he belongs.
Before Saturday’s game, Weber was fourth on the team in ice time per game, averaging 20 minutes, 12 seconds per night. He ranked second among Montreal defensemen in scoring, trailing Josh Gorges by two points. His two goals led all Canadiens blueliners and his plus-6 differential led the entire roster.
"It’s nice to be out there a lot," Weber said after Wednesday’s win over the Flyers. "I like to play a lot of minutes and I’m glad I get the chance on the power play to use my shot and the penalty kill, if I’m needed, to work with the guys. I’m glad I’m getting the ice time and the opportunity to show that I belong in this lineup."
It is quite a turnaround from the start of the season, which saw Weber utilized as a fourth-line forward, partially due to a lackluster training camp. It was a disappointing start after a strong playoff round against the Boston Bruins last spring earned him the first one-way deal of his young career.
Then injuries struck and Weber was pressed into blue-line duty. Last-minute acquisition Chris Campoli went down on opening night; a few nights later, Jaroslav Spacek left early in a game against the Jets.
"You have to give him some credit," coach Jacques Martin said in reference to Weber on Wednesday night. "He’s done a good job on the point on the power play. He scored a key goal (against the Flyers) to tie the game in the last minute of the first. He had scored a huge goal for us in Winnipeg on a 4-on-3 … and (his goal) kind of broke their back.
"I think he’s giving us some good performances and I think is playing in the right spot. He’s just got to keep working at getting better."
While drafted and viewed as an offensive-minded defenseman, Weber has been working to complete his game. Ten games into the current campaign, the 23-year-old has been even or better on the plus/minus ledger nine times. He has also seen a bump in his short-handed ice time, up more than a minute from last season.
Since Spacek returned he has been skating with Weber, a pairing used during a couple games in 2010-11.
"With Webby, we talk about the situation, what’s going out there," Spacek said. "Obviously we have good shifts and bad shifts but it’s a process. I think we’re getting better every shift we go out there and I think it showed in the last two periods (against the Bruins)."
Weber hasn’t taken a shift at forward since the first two nights of the season and his strong play his seen Russian rearguard Alexei Emelin sit as a healthy scratch all week. With Andrei Markov expected to return at some point in November, Weber is making it harder to justify moving him back up front.
"It’s twice in a row and it gives me a chance to prove that they’re wrong," Weber told The Gazette of his opportunity, just before his first start on defense earlier this month.
Consider it an opportunity seized.
Northeast Division Notes
By trading veterans and piling up draft picks last year, the Ottawa Senators made it clear the rebuild was on. And while they struggled with just one win in their first six games, lately they’ve been tough to put away. They’ve won five straight, including a pair of buzzer-beater wins over Columbus and Florida. "We’re believing in ourselves a little more and we’re believing in the game plan," Jason Spezza told the team’s website. "Now that we’ve won some games, we have confidence that if we stick with it, we’ll get rewarded and that’s been the case." Spezza’s comments came before he scored two of Ottawa’s three third-period goals in a 5-4 shootout victory over the Rangers. Heading into Sunday’s home game with the Maple Leafs, the Senators are on their first five-game winning streak since an 11-game run Jan. 14-Feb. 4, 2010. … Boston finds itself where many expected the Senators to be, languishing in 15th place in the Eastern Conference after Thursday’s loss to the Canadiens. "We need to get up for all the games and be ready and make sure we’ve got the emotion every night and have the urgency of getting those two points," Patrice Bergeron told BostonBruins.com prior to that game. GM Peter Chiarelli isn’t actively looking to make a move but admitted to reporters on a conference call early in the week "at some point if I don’t like the way things are going then I have to do something." … Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has found a productive duo in Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. The duo leads the team in scoring, with 14 and 13 points, respectively. "Ever since Rochester, Jason and I have never really played together," Vanek told Sabres.com. "We practiced together a few times, and had some games here and there. But last year after Derek went out, we got put together and ever since then we’ve been clicking." … Maple Leafs G James Reimer, out since leaving last Saturday’s game against Montreal after a collision with Canadiens captain Brian Gionta, is expected to be activated from injured reserve in time for Toronto’s tilt with the Senators on Sunday. Reimer practiced with his team on Wednesday and was thought to be ready to face the Rangers the next day but was put on the injured list on Thursday.