BROSSARD – Failing to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs isn’t cause for concern among members of the Canadiens’ leadership corps.
Assistant captains Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban, along with goaltender Carey Price, were among 16 Habs to meet the media on Thursday at the Bell Sports Complex to formally evaluate the 2014-15 campaign, which came to an end just two days ago at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
While the postseason certainly didn’t play out the way the Habs had intended coming off a dominant showing between October and early April, those charged with leading Michel Therrien’s troops within the locker room and setting an example on the ice insist that in retrospect, the positives far outweighed the negatives.
“Whenever you don’t win, you have a bit of an empty feeling towards the end of the year. It doesn’t feel any different today,” offered Price, who strung together a remarkable regular season, before registering a 6-6 record, a .920 save percentage and a 2.23 goals-against average in 12 playoff starts. “We accomplished a lot this year winning 50 games. We had a really fun year as a group. We were disappointed with the way things ended, but I think we’ve gained a lot of experience. A lot of guys had really good years this year. We have a lot to look forward to next year.”
That’s something Pacioretty stressed time and again on Thursday, pointing out that while the offseason might have come two weeks earlier than last year, the general consensus among the players is that lessons learned in defeat will go a long way towards helping the group take even bigger strides down the road.
“We had a great regular season, a great first round of the playoffs and we even played some good hockey in the second round. The guys are feeling the same way: that we’re moving in the right direction. It’s frustrating that this year wasn’t the year and that our season has ended, but going forward, we’ll learn from this and get better,” explained Pacioretty, who formally confirmed that he’d suffered a concussion back on April 5, which sidelined him for the final two games of the regular season and Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarter-Final series against Ottawa. “We came up short this year, but there were a lot of good things to build off of and learn from.”
Case in point was the way the Canadiens went about their business during a demanding regular season schedule that included 16 sets of back-to-back games. While there may have been letdowns at times, Therrien’s contingent never let things get out of hand. That ensured their position atop the Eastern Conference standings for the majority of the regular season, which is a good indication that many of the right ingredients are already in place.
“You look at how our team matched up against other teams and I think our system was a big reason why we had a lot of success. We had the regular season we did because we played a playoff style for 82 games. Many teams don’t do that and that’s a reason some of them don’t have success. You can play open hockey all you want, but at the end of the day, if you play the right way for 82 games, the results take care of themselves,” confided Pacioretty, who led the Canadiens with 37 goals and 67 points in 80 regular season games, before pacing the squad with five goals in 11 playoff outings.
“We played 82 games the way you would play a playoff series and it’s a big reason for our success. Last year, it paid off and even this year we felt like we played strongly enough to maybe make it to the next round,” added the Canadiens’ No. 67, who is awaiting the birth of his second child – a baby boy – any day now. “A lot of it is due to playing a strong system game and a strong team game. We have good depth, we roll lines and guys have juice because we play everybody. Having that depth is important for the way we play. It’s a big reason for our success.”
That’s for sure. It also didn’t hurt to have plenty of veteran soldiers and young guns alike willing to step up to the plate over the course of the year, even those who didn’t necessarily see a lot of playing time.
“Our biggest strength is the fact that we have many leaders who stepped up throughout the season. That’s how you become a first place team in our division and a top team in the League. It’s not a handful of players; it’s on the whole team. You talk about guys like Manny and Lars Eller and Dale Weise, and guys like that who have been on this team, or guys like Gonchar coming in as veterans. It helps,” mentioned Subban, who was named a finalist for the Norris Trophy after putting up 15 goals and 60 points in 82 games in 2014-15. “We have a lot of young leaders on our team, guys that we lean on, and it helps to have guys with experience to help out. They supported us very well. We’ve had a lot of leadership in our dressing room this year and it’s important to have going into next year, as well.”
Price is certainly in agreement there, noting that the 2014-15 edition of the Canadiens was a particularly cohesive unit. That made the experience of winning on a regular basis all the more special.
“We have a good, solid group of guys. They’re going to hopefully be around for a while. I really like hanging out with this group. Chemistry-wise, it’s probably the best group I’ve ever been with,” praised Price, who already claimed the William Jennings Trophy alongside Blackhawks netminder Corey Crawford, and is in the running for the Vezina Trophy, the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award as well. “We’re just trying to keep the same consistency. Whenever your team wins 50 games, you’re doing something right. We don’t want to change. We have a lot of guys playing good hockey for us right now. We have a lot of the right pieces.”
That’s why the Canadiens aren’t about to let a premature playoff exit spoil everything they accomplished in 2014-15. In their case, the best really is yet to come.
“We have to keep looking forward and move forward. I think the regular season was good for us. Playoffs weren’t. That’s life and that’s sports,” confided Markov, who registered one goal and two points in 12 playoff games. “We just have to stay positive and keep working harder.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Words From The Room - May 14
What they said...