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Liking what he sees

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

TERREBONNE – Head coach Michel Therrien has every reason to be confident in his troops heading into the 2015-16 campaign.

Addressing the media at Le Mirage Golf Club on Tuesday morning ahead of his annual goal tournament on the North Shore, the Canadiens’ bench boss reflected on last year’s remarkable regular season effort, a busy offseason, and also shared his thoughts on several individual players with the start of training camp just five weeks away.

“We’re coming off a pretty good season [in 2014-15]. We picked up 50 wins, and we played two playoff rounds. The goal is always to win the Stanley Cup. We’re no different than anyone else. The 29 other teams that don’t win it are disappointed. That’s the nature of the business. We’re focused on making the playoffs. That’s the challenge. We’re looking to put ourselves in the best position possible. We might have struggled on offense, but people forget that we scored just eight goals less than the Chicago Blackhawks during the regular season last year. Eight goals less over 82 games isn’t a lot,” offered Therrien, who returned to Montreal last Friday after spending some well-deserved vacation time outside of Quebec for the majority of the summer.

“The competition is fierce [in today’s NHL]. Last season, you saw the Stanley Cup Champions from the year before, the Los Angeles Kings, fail to make the playoffs. The Boston Bruins, who were in first place the year before, didn’t make the playoffs, either. That proves just how close things are. It’s a thin line. It’s tough to make it to the postseason,” added Therrien, who believes his squad certainly benefitted from another good season under their collective belts, even if it ended with a premature playoff exit at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 2 in mid-May. “I like the way the guys have developed. Our young leaders are getting a lot of experience. The fact that they’re playing in big games and enjoying a certain amount of playoff success is huge. Those youngsters have come a long way over the last three years. It’s encouraging.”

One of those youngsters is Alex Galchenyuk, who set multiple career-highs last season, putting up 20 goals and 46 points in 80 regular season games, in addition to amassing a plus-9 differential, before signing a new two-year contract with the Canadiens on July 30.

“He’s a young player. I like the way he’s developing. He’s made a lot of progress. He’s learning how to play the NHL game. We’ll find out pretty quickly whether he’s going to be a centerman or whether he’s going to be on the wing, but the main thing I want him to do is play the game with confidence. That will breed success. I’m not going to put him in a position where he’s going to lose that confidence. You don’t like to do that to young kids. He’s headed in the right direction,” mentioned Therrien, who met with the the 21-year-old in late June while the Canadiens’ brass gathered for the NHL Draft in South Florida. “He spends his summers there, so I took the opportunity to have lunch with him. We had a good conversation. It was good to see him, especially in a different context outside of business and outside of hockey.”

Less than a week before Galchenyuk put pen to paper, general manager Marc Bergevin inked seven-time 20-goal scorer, Alexander Semin, to a one-year contract. While the Russian forward is coming off the least productive season of his career, Therrien insists the addition of a proven veteran up front can only help the Canadiens in their bid to up their offensive production.

“It’s a good challenge [to coach a player like Alexander]. That’s how I see it. He’s a guy with a lot of potential. It’s an opportunity for him to get back on track to the level where we think he’s capable of playing, and where he thinks he can play, too. We’re going to give him an opportunity. When we analyzed our group, we thought he fit what we needed. He’s a guy who can score. He’s a guy who can make plays. He’s proven in the past that he can contribute to the success of a team offensively. We see it as a win-win situation for both us and for him,” praised Therrien, who didn’t shy away from sharing his philosophy when it comes to working with top talents like Semin.

“It’s not the old days where it was my way or the highway. It doesn’t work like that anymore. You need to try and build relationships with players and communicate a lot. I truly believe in those things and I believe in teaching players the way you want them to play and compete,” added Therrien, insisting that he will do everything in his power to get the best out of the dynamic right-winger all season long. “Our players really buy into what we’ve built here. I’ve got a lot of respect for them. This is a group that competes a lot. They work hard.”

That, among other things, is surely what enticed the likes of trade deadline acquisitions Jeff Petry and Torrey Mitchell to avoid testing the unrestricted free agent market, and lengthen their stay in La Belle Province for the foreseeable future. Needless to say, Therrien was pleased to see it.

“I’m very happy that our players were able to get their contracts signed and settled. The fact that we were able to keep guys like Petry and Mitchell, who were already free agents, I think that says a lot. These guys had the opportunity to go somewhere else. I think they appreciated the way the organization did things. They appreciated the chemistry that exists within our team. Internally, we take a lot of pride in the fact that players who could go elsewhere ultimately chose to stay,” offered Therrien, who chalks those signings up as another important indicator that the CH is on the right track.

“Signing guys like that is unusual for a market like Montreal. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with playing here. But, they really like the team spirit. This is a group that wants to win. Even guys like Semin and [Zack] Kassian coming in, I think they’re going to appreciate the way we do things, too. They’re going to appreciate being a part of the group,” continued Therrien, who boasts 337 wins behind the bench since beginning his NHL coaching career in Montreal back in 2000-01. “It’s a big plus to get those guys in the lineup at the start of the year instead of later on.”

Now, Therrien is eager to begin preparing for what promises to be an entertaining season.`

“When August comes around, we’re definitely thinking about hockey. The ambiance is definitely there. This golf tournament is really the start of it all,” concluded Therrien, who also indicated that Max Pacioretty is recovering nicely and working out after suffering a knee injury in early July. “It’s not the ideal day for a golf tournament, but the weather is one of those things we just can’t control.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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