Brian Gionta

Montreal captain Gionta eyeing Saturday return

The embattled Montreal Canadiens got some good news on Tuesday as captain Brian Gionta returned to practice. The 32-year-old had been sidelined since suffering a groin injury against Vancouver on Dec. 8 and has missed Montreal’s last 10 games.

“It felt good, nice to be back out there, getting into the swing of things,” Gionta told the Montreal Gazette. “It’s been a long road and [rehab] is part of it. You want to be out there with the guys practicing, taking steps in the right direction.”

It’s been tough sledding for the Habs with Gionta on the shelf. In his absence they’ve gone 3-7, fired Jacques Martin, hired budding French student Randy Cunneyworth on an interim basis and acquired Tomas Kaberle. Oh yeah, Tomas Plekanec also fought PK Subban in practice, which was an embarrassment both the organization and fighting.

As for when Gionta will return? It won’t be tonight against Winnipeg (which is a key battle with the Jets are eight points clear of Montreal for ninth in the East) — but both he and the organization are hopeful for a return to the lineup Saturday against Tampa Bay.

Habs claim Byron off waivers from Flames

Paul Byron
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Montreal added some forward depth on Tuesday, acquiring diminutive forward Paul Byron off waivers from Calgary.

Byron, 26, is a veteran of nearly 150 career NHL games, most coming with the Flames. Despite fairly solid production over the last two years — 40 points in 104 games — he was exposed to waivers on Monday, along with fellow forward Mason Raymond.

(Calgary does have a logjam of players at forward, hence parting ways with Byron and Raymond.)

Byron can play both wing and center but, at 5-foot-7, 153 pounds, is one of the most undersized skaters in the league. Thankfully for him, Montreal has an affinity for undersized forwards, with the likes of Brendan Gallagher (5-foot-9, 184 pounds) and David Desharnais (5-foot-7, 174 pounds) already on the active roster.

Byron could also fill Zack Kassian‘s roster spot. Kassian is currently suspended without pay while undergoing Stage 2 of the NHL’s Substance Abuse program.

Isles claim goalie Berube off waivers

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jaroslav Halak
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The New York Islanders have claimed goalie Jean-Francois Berube off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings, the club announced today.

Berube won the Calder Cup last season with AHL Manchester, but the 24-year-old has yet to appear in an NHL game.

That the Isles claimed Berube could be evidence that Jaroslav Halak will not be ready to start the season after all.

If that’s the case, Berube would back up Thomas Greiss, with Stephon Williams expected to go to the AHL.

The Isles open their regular season Friday at home versus the Blackhawks, then play the next day in Chicago.