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Canadiens seek revenge against Canucks

Montreal looks to avoid first regulation loss against Vancouver for second straight season

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

BROSSARD, Quebec -- The Montreal Canadiens entered this season focused on change, and through nine games they have clearly failed.

The Canadiens' 8-0-1 start to the 2016-17 season has nearly been an exact replica to how they began last season, when they set a Montreal record by going 9-0-0 before losing their 10th game, 5-1, at the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 27, 2015.

Montreal's 10th game of this season is against the Canucks, this time at Bell Centre on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; SN, RDS, NHL.TV).

Last season, Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller had some extra motivation to defeat the Canadiens; he was trying to protect an NHL record he helped match with the 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres, who won their first 10 games of the season.

That record is not in jeopardy this time, but Miller still is eager to take another shot at handing the Canadiens their first regulation loss of the season. He is 11-7-1 in his career at Bell Centre with a 2.07 goals against average and .935 save percentage.

Video: MTL@VAN: Miller slides across to rob Desharnais

"It was a big win obviously at home," Miller said Tuesday of the game in Vancouver last season. "And it kept the Sabres streak alive, so it was helping out the old team in the record books at least. [Montreal is] playing good hockey again. The things we're looking to do can hopefully make an impact [Wednesday] night."

Miller realized he still needed to protect something that 2006-07 Sabres team achieved, though it is not an NHL record.

"We won our first 10 games and got points in our first 12," Miller said. "They've got points in their first nine, so I guess there's still another streak to stop."

Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher remembers that game against the Canucks well.

He also remembers how the Canadiens felt coming into his hometown riding a nine-game winning streak and says this team has a much different attitude about its hot start, largely because of how last season ended with Montreal missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs after goaltender Carey Price was lost for the season after he injured his knee on Nov. 25.

"I think everything that we learned last year, everything that we went through, it's given us a good understanding," Gallagher said. "I think last year everyone was saying so many good things about us, I think we started to believe it a little bit too much."

The Canadiens' record and facing the Canucks in the 10th game are not the only similarities between this start and last season's.

In 2015-16, Montreal scored 35 goals in its first nine games; this season they have 31. Montreal allowed 12 goals through nine games last season and have allowed 13 this season, leading the NHL in goals against. 

Montreal's 5-on-5 save percentage at the nine-game mark is exactly the same at .964, even with Price missing the first three games this season because of the flu, and its 5-on-5 shooting percentage is only fractions lower, dropping from 9.2 percent to 9 percent this season.

Video: TOR@MTL: Weber blasts a power-play goal for lead

But the Canadiens have indeed changed this season, and a big part of it in the eyes of general manager Marc Bergevin is the addition of defenseman Shea Weber, who was named the NHL's second star for the month of October on Tuesday. Weber leads the Canadiens with 10 points and is plus-12. He has four goals, three of which are game-winners. Weber had three game-winning goals combined in the past two seasons.

Bergevin traded defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Weber on June 29 and the trade has made a big difference, both offensively and defensively.

"It changes everything," Bergevin said Monday. "What he brings, you obviously see it on the ice, but off the ice, in the room, everywhere, it's his attitude, his behavior, the little details that show he's a real leader.

"Everything that's been said about Shea Weber, it's really that, and even more."

The addition of Weber is not the only roster change paying big dividends for Bergevin. He signed free agent forward Alexander Radulov on July 1. Radulov is tied for third on the Canadiens with seven points in nine games. Bergevin also acquired forward Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Blackhawks for two second-round picks in the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24 in the hopes his winning pedigree would have an impact on the Canadiens' ability to manage not only losing streaks, but also situations like the one they find themselves in now.

Video: MTL@BOS: Danault, Radulov combine for great goal

"I expect more and I think everyone else expects more," Shaw said Tuesday. "I don't think we've been playing our best hockey, but we've had success. So we're just going to build on that."

The changes Bergevin wanted to make on the Canadiens are reflected in Shaw's answer. The numbers from the first nine games last season and this one might be nearly identical, but Bergevin wanted to change Montreal's attitude.

At least thus far, it's mission accomplished in Bergevin's eyes.

"It's a more business-like attitude, it's more calm. A lot more calm," he said. "I'm sure it has a lot to do with Shea. If you look at him, I think he has that attitude like, 'You know what? It's just one game, let's move on to the next one.' That's his attitude."

Last season, the Canadiens next game after the loss in Vancouver was at the Edmonton Oilers when Price stepped on a puck in warmups and injured his knee, an injury that cost him the next nine games but one that he and Montreal each insisted was unrelated to the one that eventually ended his season.

The Canadiens' inability to handle the loss of Price last season is what led Bergevin to make the changes he made in the offseason, and it won't be until Montreal faces some similar adversity that we'll know whether or not those changes had the effect he desired.

But considering everything the Canadiens went through last season and the controversy surrounding the Weber-Subban trade, the start to this season might actually be more important than the near identical one they had last season.

"We'll go through some tougher periods, but these are points in the bank," Bergevin said. "Two points in October are worth the same as they are in April. But we have 73 games to go and we have a lot of things to work on. A good start to the season was important for the confidence of our group but we have a lot of work to do."

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