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Canadiens showing they're more than Carey Price

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- As the Montreal Canadiens opened their dressing room for the media Saturday following their sixth straight win to open the season, goaltender Carey Price was getting undressed at his locker.

The reporters rushed by Price to allow him to remove his equipment, which is not unusual.

What was unusual was that they didn't come back to Price's locker until he was long gone because, as has been the case more often than not this season, he wasn't the main story behind the Canadiens' 4-1 victory against the Detroit Red Wings.

Reporters spoke with defenseman Jeff Petry, named the First Star for scoring the winning goal on the power play and dishing out a game-high five hits in 20:31 of ice time.

They were talking to Brendan Gallagher, who scored his first goal of the season on a controversial play at the net to erase the first deficit the Canadiens have had in their first six games, one that lasted 2:57 after Red Wings rookie Dylan Larkin opened the scoring at 4:47 of the second period.

Tomas Plekanec was also at his stall fielding questions after he took over the Canadiens lead with his fifth goal to make it 3-1 with 2:04 to play in the third, leaving little doubt Montreal would remain undefeated at 6-0-0.

Price did not play poorly, far from it. But he wasn't the primary reason the Canadiens won, and it wasn't the first time that's been the case this season.

If there is one thing that can differentiate this version of the Canadiens to last season's, that might be it.

There's a reason Price won the Hart Trophy last season, because a perception existed that without him the Canadiens were an average team.

It's early, but the Canadiens are doing their best to try and change that.

"I like the fact that guys take a lot of pride about their responsibilities," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "I like the fact they take a lot of pride about being a group of players that work extremely hard. We made some changes over the course of the summer, and we believe it helps the team a lot.

"We changed a little bit the philosophy of our team."

Those philosophical changes could not have been clearer Saturday against Detroit.

After Petry scored at 6:32 of the third period to give Montreal a 2-1 lead, the Canadiens aggressively attacked the Red Wings and poured it on to the tune of a 20-5 margin in third-period shots on goal. Last season's Canadiens would have hung back, taken few chances with the puck and protected that margin.

"No matter if we have a lead or we're losing, we're always pushing," Canadiens center Alex Galchenyuk said. "We're always attacking and we're always making it hard for the other team."

After scoring three times in the third period Saturday, the Canadiens are outscoring their opponents 10-1 in the final period. A big reason is Therrien has been spreading the ice time out among his forwards; the forward with the highest even-strength ice time Saturday was Lars Eller with 13:03 and the lowest was David Desharnais at 10:02.

"We can roll four lines all game, so in the third maybe we're a bit fresher than the other side," Gallagher said. "I think it showed tonight."

But there are tactical changes at work as well, mainly in how the Canadiens enter the offensive zone with control of the puck rather than dumping it in the way they did almost exclusively last season. Gallagher said the familiarity that's been built among the forwards since the start of training camp has played a big role in that.

"I agree that we're coming up with control, but we've always wanted that," Gallagher said. "I just think we're doing a better job of winning neutral-zone battles, coming up with support, understanding where the puck's going to be going. We've had the same lines since training camp [started], so we've been able to build that chemistry and understand where guys are going to like support and when to stay away.

"One of the things we're trying to concentrate on a little bit is getting the puck to the middle [in the neutral zone], so that when you do kick it out [toward the boards], that's where the time comes from because defensemen have to respect it. When you come up the ice with the puck in the middle, it's tougher to defend."

It's not only tougher for opponents to defend, but it also means the puck winds up in the offensive zone and on the Canadiens players' sticks more often.

And that it is far away from Price at the other end of the ice.

"They're team wins," Therrien said. "Carey was really good again tonight, he made key saves at the right time to give us a chance to keep pushing the play, keep playing with confidence. So obviously, tonight, I thought he played really well. The guys in front of him are doing a really good job, they're competing on both sides of the ice. But I really liked the fact it was a good team effort."

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