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Canadiens long to prove they're more than Price

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Quebec -- All summer long, people were saying the Montreal Canadiens are a team that relies too much on goaltender Carey Price to win games for them.

In their first chance to prove those people wrong, Wednesday in the season-opener at the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadiens did the opposite.

They proved them right, allowing the Maple Leafs to control long stretches of the game but coming out with a 3-1 win based largely on 36 saves made by Price.

It was remarkably similar to what the Canadiens did last season.

"Obviously we'd like to score more, but as long as we're winning the games, that's what matters," Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec said Sept. 8 at the NHL Player Media Tour in Toronto. "A big part of that was [Price], which is the one thing honestly we want to get better at and play better in front of him."

Asked Friday about reverting to that problem to start this season, Plekanec got annoyed. He's not taking back what he said last month, but there is a difference between what he said and saying, as many do, that the Canadiens are good solely because of Price.

"You know what? I'm kind of sick of hearing that we're a team that's just about Carey," Plekanec said. "Obviously he's the best goaltender in the world, we all know that. But should we feel sorry for ourselves that we play in front of him?

"He's a great goalie, but I think we're a better team than that. But we've got to show that. We've got to show that in the game that we're better. We've got to help him out a little bit more."

The Canadiens were outshot 37-30 by the Maple Leafs and had 47 percent of the shot attempts at 5-on-5. They were not necessarily dominated, but it was not exactly the type of performance they expected of themselves.

"I think like anyone else we're trying to build, we're trying to get better, and we want to help [Price] out as much as we can and make it as easy for him as we can," Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher said. "But it's no different than any other team. Other teams rely on their best player; our best player happens to be our goaltender, and we rely on him."

That's not to say the Canadiens are comfortable with that reliance, or at least the degree of it. Even Plekanec can agree with the idea that it's one thing to claim the Canadiens are more than just Price, it's another thing to show it.

"I think we're better than people are saying, but everyone has a right to their opinion," he said. "I don't think we're just about [Price], but we've got to prove that more."

Did they prove that Wednesday?

"Not really," Plekanec said before a wry smile. "But we've got to start somewhere."

The Canadiens can start Saturday when they play the Boston Bruins at TD Garden (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports). The Bruins made massive changes this offseason, but the Canadiens don't expect that to alter the nature of their games.

"The logos on the front are more important to the rivalry [than the players]," Gallagher said.

Montreal coach Michel Therrien said he is hoping the game will be more reflective of the way he wants the Canadiens to play.

"We found a way to win (Wednesday), that's the most important thing, but we all know as a group that the execution's got to be better, pushing the pace has got to be better," Therrien said. "There's a lot of things. It's the same thing with both teams."

Gallagher said the Canadiens need to control the puck more, and generally speaking that's what they want to do better than they have in the past. Montreal's possession numbers have been weak under Therrien, but it appears the desire is there to change that.

One reason is the Canadiens' chip-and-chase style, creating mini battles and counting on their speed to win them. Gallagher said that style won't change, but the hope is the Canadiens become more efficient at it.

"That still has to be our game. We still have to rely on our strengths, and our strength is our speed," he said. "We have a lot of guys that can win battles, so we try to get into battles and wear teams down that way. The worst thing you can do is turn the puck over and go the other way, and that's what leads to the chances, and that's usually when you have to rely on [Price].

"It's just about having support, supporting the puck. You can play a possession game if you chip it in and forecheck and get the puck back if your forechecking game is where it needs to be. As long as you're playing in the other team's zone, even if you don't have the puck on your stick you still consider it offensive if you're in their zone and they're under pressure."

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