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Price, Subban, Pacioretty keep Canadiens optimistic

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL (NHL.com) -- Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien likes to talk about his young veterans, the core players they are built around.

Any optimism surrounding the Canadiens begins with that group.

"Our young leaders have gained a lot of experience thanks to playing in big games, playoff games, and having a certain degree of success in the playoffs," Therrien said. "I think those young leaders have progressed over the past three years, and that's encouraging."

Here are four reasons for the Canadiens to be optimistic:

The wall in goal: The most common criticism of the Canadiens is that they are overly reliant on goaltender Carey Price.

It's a fair point, but Price enters this season as arguably the best player in the NHL, an argument strongly supported when he won the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award last season. When you have the best player in the League, it's only natural to lean on him. The Canadiens have the added advantage of having that player on the ice for every minute of every game he plays.

The common assumption is that Price will have difficulty repeating what he did last season, when he led the NHL in wins (44), save percentage (.933) and goals-against average (1.96), and that may be true. On the other hand, having turned 28 on Aug. 16, it's possible those numbers are reflective of Price hitting his prime.

The next level for P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty: The defenseman and forward are 26 years old, and each has grown into a vital player. But have they hit their prime like Price appeared to last season? There's reason to believe they haven't, and that they might this season.

Subban is coming off the best statistical season of his NHL career (60 points in 82 games). More importantly, he earned Therrien's complete trust, used in all situations and increasing his ice time for a third straight season. Subban was sixth in the NHL in ice time per game last season (26:12), but his offensive numbers and overall impact could become more impressive if he climbs into the top three with an extra minute or two on the ice this season.

Pacioretty also could reach another level, although he has already established himself as one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL. Only Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (104) and Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks (78) have more than the 76 goals Pacioretty has scored over the past two seasons.

Pacioretty has done this despite being the Canadiens' only legitimate scoring threat. If another emerges, perhaps free agent forward Alexander Semin, Pacioretty could benefit from the divided attention of opposing defenders.

Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher coming of age: Perhaps the secondary scoring threat to take pressure off Pacioretty could be Galchenyuk or Gallagher. Better yet for the Canadiens, perhaps it could be both of them.

Galchenyuk and Gallagher took very different roads to the NHL but have been following similar paths since their rookie season in 2012-13. Galchenyuk (20) and Gallagher (24) each scored 20 goals for the first time in his NHL career last season, the second straight season each increased his previous high.

Gallagher, 23, and Galchenyuk, 21, are ascending NHL players who have the benefit of three seasons of experience. Their fourth season could be the one when one, or both, breaks out offensively and achieves elite status.

Younger and bigger: The Canadiens began last season with nine players who were 30 or older. This season, there likely will be five players that old on the opening-night roster.

There were nine skaters on the roster listed at 6-foot-2 or taller, and 10 who were 200 pounds or heavier. This season, there could be as many as 11 skaters who are at least 6-foot-2 and 12 who weigh at least 200 pounds.

For years, the Canadiens were considered a small team. That's no longer the case.

Author: Arpon Basu | Managing Editor LNH.com

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