Stu Cowan: Canadiens’ goal this season is simple: ‘Grow as a team’

But are Canadiens fans willing to be patient during this rebuild after the team has gone winless in eight preseason games?

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Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis has a simple goal for this season.

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“Grow,” he said after the team’s morning skate Saturday at the JK Irving Center in Bouctouche, N.B. “Grow as a team.”

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There will be plenty of growing pains along the way, as we already saw during the preseason, as the Canadiens finished with an 0-6-2 record after Saturday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators in a Kraft Hockeyville game. .

It didn’t help that the injury bug has already hit the Canadiens again after they finished last season with an NHL-record 731 games lost to injury.

Forward Nick Suzuki and defenseman Joel Edmundson collided during an on-ice session a few days before the start of training camp, and both suffered lower-body injuries. Suzuki appeared briefly in training camp and played in one preseason game before being sidelined with an upper-body injury, while Edmundson missed all of training camp with his back injury. Edmundson resumed skating Monday in Brossard, but there is still no timeline for his return to the lineup.

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Forwards Joel Armia, Mike Hoffman, Christian Dvorak and Emil Heineman all suffered upper-body injuries during the preseason, making it uncertain what the Canadiens’ starting-night lineup will look like Wednesday when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Bell Center (7 p.m., SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). The Canadiens announced Monday that defenseman Mike Matheson has a lower-body injury and is listed as day-to-day.

Suzuki, Hoffman and Dvorak were back on the ice for practice Monday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.

On Sunday afternoon, the Canadiens announced they had granted defensemen Corey Schueneman and Madison Bowey waivers with the intent of loaning them to the AHL’s Laval Rocket.

Defensive linemen Kaiden Guhle and Jordan Harris both played well enough during the preseason to earn roster spots, while Justin Barron looks set to see some time in Laval. That likely played into the Canadiens’ decision to claim defenseman Jonathan Kovacevic off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.

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Kovacevic is a right-handed shot, as is Barron, and the Canadiens lack depth on the right side of the blue line. Guhle, a left-handed shot, played on the right side Saturday night with Schueneman as his partner.

“I’ve played on the right side here and there throughout my career, but definitely the highest level I’ve had to play on the right side,” Guhle said. “So it was good to get it, and it’s something that is good to have, as a left-hander is to be able to play on the right side.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous and a little bit anxious to know what’s going to happen,” Guhle added of the latest cuts. “But whatever happens, happens, I’ll support and make the most of it.”

Harris, another left-handed shot, also played some preseason games on the right side and said he enjoyed the experience of his first full NHL training camp.

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“Getting to play every situation — left or right — with different guys against different teams and just the experience,” he said of what he learned during training camp. “There will be growing pains and you try to learn from mistakes — from positives, from negatives. Just getting those reps in.”

The Canadiens also have to decide what to do with Juraj Slafkovsky, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. All the injuries at the forward position will likely open up a spot for him to at least start the season with the Canadiens.

Harris said there were positives to take away from the preseason even though the Canadiens didn’t win a game.

“It’s really positive in the dressing room,” he said. “It’s great and kudos to these guys for staying positive and the coaches. It’s really important when you don’t start with any wins in the preseason, it’s easy to get down. It’s easy for morale to be a little down. But it is the opposite in the dressing room. That says a lot about the guys in the dressing room, but also the coaches and management.”

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This season will be all about development as the Canadiens look to rebuild after finishing with the worst record in the NHL last season. They have a lot of young, talented players, but that doesn’t mean there will be a lot of wins, and this team has a better chance of having a good lottery spot to win the No. 1 overall draft again next year than of in the playoffs.

That wouldn’t be a bad thing considering Connor Bedard is the highest rated prospect in next year’s draft and is considered a generational talent.

But are Canadiens fans willing to be patient during this rebuild?

“I can’t control what the fans feel,” said St. Louis. “I can only control what I do.

“Patience is part of development and growth and I realize that sometimes results can test your patience,” he added. “But for me it’s just sticking to what I believe in our plan, and the plan is the growth of our young players.”

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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