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Canadiens season preview: Improved play needed from Price

The 2018-19 NHL season begins Oct. 3. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for all 31 teams. Today, the Montreal Canadiens.

 

[RELATED: 2018-19 Season Preview coverage]

 

Coach: Claude Julien (third season)

Last season: 29-40-13; sixth place Atlantic Division

 

5 KEYS
1. Price needs to set tone

The Canadiens are hoping Carey Price can bounce back from the worst of his 11 seasons in the NHL. The 31-year-old was 16-26-7 with a 3.11 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 2017-18, well off his NHL career averages of 2.40 GAA and .920 save percentage entering the season. He also missed time with a lower-body injury and has only played more than 60 games once in the past three seasons (62 in 2016-17). Price, who begins an eight-year contract this season, told NHL.com in August he “can play better” and has been working on keeping a more neutral position in the crease.

Video: FLA@MTL: Price flashes the leather for dazzling save

 

2. Stay in playoff race until Weber returns

Strong play from Price will be even more important while defenseman Shea Weber recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery he had to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee June 19. Weber, who had 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 26 games last season, is expected to be out 5-6 months, meaning he likely won’t play until sometime in December at the earliest.

 

3. Replacing lost production

Despite finishing 29th in the NHL in scoring last season (207 goals; 2.52 per game), the Canadiens traded forward Max Pacioretty, a five-time 30-goal scorer, to the Vegas Golden Knights on Sept. 10, and forward Alex Galchenyuk, who scored 30 goals in 2015-16 and was third on Montreal with 19 last season, to the Arizona Coyotes on June 16. 

Among the players the Canadiens will rely on to take their place are Brendan Gallagher, who led them with 31 goals last season, Tomas Tatar, who was acquired in the Pacioretty trade and has scored at least 20 goals in four straight seasons, and Jonathan Drouin, who scored 13 goals in 77 games last season, his first in Montreal.

Video: WSH@MTL: Gallagher rips home nice feed from Danault

 

4. Improved penalty kill

The Canadiens were 30th in the NHL on the penalty kill last season (74.1 percent), ranking ahead of only the New York Islanders (73.2 percent).

Assistant coach Luke Richardson, who was hired July 9 after spending last season with the Islanders, will help coach Claude Julien oversee the penalty kill this season. One task they’ll have is finding an effective defense pair until Weber returns.

 

5. Embrace youth movement

With what could be one of the youngest rosters in the NHL this season, the Canadiens are counting on several of their young players to step up.

Gallagher is 26; forwards Phillip Danault and Joel Armia are 25; forward Charles Hudon, who had 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) as a rookie last season, is 24; forwards Drouin, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Domi, who was acquired in the Galchenyuk trade, are 23; and defenseman Victor Mete is 20.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN
Making the cut

Although the top six defensemen appear to be Karl Alzner, Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn, David Schlemko, Mete and Noah Juulsen, Mike Reilly and Xavier Ouellet could also earn a spot. Reilly had 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 57 games with the Canadiens and Minnesota Wild last season, and Ouellet, who signed a one-year, two-way contract July 1, had seven assists in 45 games with the Detroit Red Wings. Brett Lernout, Rinat Valiev, Michal Moravcik, David Sklenicka and Simon Despres are also in the mix.

 

Most intriguing addition

Domi, who was suspended for the final five games of the preseason by the NHL Department of Player Safety for roughing Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad on Sept. 19, will start the season at center after playing most of his first three NHL seasons on the wing with the Coyotes. The decision to use Domi at center allows Drouin to move from center, where he played last season, back to the wing, the position Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has said is better suited to Drouin’s skills.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, was expected to spend at least one more season with Assat in Liiga, the top professional league in his native Finland, but he’s looked strong in training camp and could force his way into the lineup this season.

 

Ready to break through

Matthew Peca, who Bergevin ranked fourth on the Canadiens depth chart at center in a recent interview with TSN 690. Peca, who signed a two-year contract with Montreal on July 1, had five points (two goals, three assists) in 10 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season.

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Jonathan Drouin — Max Domi — Paul Byron

Tomas Tatar — Phillip Danault — Brendan Gallagher

Charles Hudon — Tomas Plekanec — Artturi Lehkonen

Nikita Scherbak — Matthew Peca — Joel Armia

Karl Alzner — Jeff Petry

Victor Mete — Noah Juulsen

David Schlemko — Jordie Benn

Carey Price

Antti Niemi

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