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Canadiens motivated after it 'really hurt' to miss playoffs, Julien says

Improving power play key to securing berth, according to coach

NHL.com @NHLdotcom

The Montreal Canadiens are hungry to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, especially after coming so close last season, coach Claude Julien said Thursday.

"Missing last year's playoffs by such a small amount really hurt," Julien said at the Jonathan Drouin Golf Tournament at Le Club Laval-sur-le-Lac in Laval, Quebec. "The players want to come back this season and make the necessary adjustments so we can play in the postseason."

The Canadiens, who finished 28th in the NHL in 2018-19, finished 44-30-8 last season, two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Montreal was eliminated April 5, the penultimate day of the regular season, when the Blue Jackets defeated the New York Rangers 3-2 in a shootout. 

The Canadiens have failed to qualify for the playoffs the past two seasons and three of the past four. They return nearly the same roster from last season.

"We want to give our fans exciting hockey," Julien said. "We want to play with a lot of passion, but we also want to take another step forward."

Video: Carey Price occupies the No. 4 spot on the list

A power play that ranked 30th in the NHL (13.2 percent), ahead of only the Nashville Predators (12.9 percent), caught up with the Canadiens. They scored an NHL-low 31 goals on the man-advantage with defensemen Shea Weber (five) and Jeff Petry (three) combining for eight in 234 opportunities. Drouin led Montreal with 16 power-play points (three goals, 13 assists). Forwards Max Domi, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher each scored four power-play goals.

"Our power play certainly needs to get better this year," Julien said. "We want to give [goalie Carey Price] the best possible situation. We hope that (backup) Keith Kinkaid will be the one that will be able to give him some rest, on top of playing good hockey. We also have several young guys who are becoming more settled and more experienced. That sort of thing is really encouraging to us."

The Canadiens hope 19-year-old center Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, will blossom after he had 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 79 games last season. Two other centers chosen in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft, Nick Suzuki (No. 13, by the Vegas Golden Knights) and Ryan Poehling (No. 25), are each 20 years old and will get long looks during training camp. 

Gallagher returns after scoring an NHL career-high 33 goals. Petry increased his NHL career high in points (46) for the third straight season and set new highs with 13 goals and 33 assists. Domi had 72 points (28 goals, 44 assists) in his first season with the Canadiens after he was acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes for forward Alex Galchenyuk on June 15, 2018.

"It's always the same thing," Julien said. "It's watching video to see the areas where we can improve. It's the opportunity for us coaches, as a group, to review the things that we think can be improved and make us better. We have a lot of time to do that over the summer, and when we meet, we can review everything and make adjustments together."

LNH.com managing editor Sebastien Deschambault contributed to this report

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