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Claude Julien showing trust in young players

Early signs point to Canadiens coach having longer leash

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- One vitally important thing changed for the Montreal Canadiens in the first game of Claude Julien's second stint as coach, and it had nothing to do with him.

More than any of the tactical changes Julien instituted in a 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Bell Centre on Saturday, more than the different forward lines or penalty killing schemes or breakouts, one thing stood out that suggests the Canadiens' current 1-6-1 slide should come to an end soon.

Carey Price looked like Carey Price again.

The five-day break the Canadiens just came off was clearly evident in how sloppy their game was, but what was just as clear was that it did Price a world of good.

No longer was Price caught out of position or allowing goals on unscreened shots or doing things that don't meet the somewhat impossibly high standards he has set for himself. Instead, Price stoned Jets rookie Patrik Laine three times with highlight-reel glove saves and erased quality scoring chances with seemingly routine saves.

Video: WPG@MTL: Price flashes the leather to rob Laine

Price made 30 saves and allowed fewer than three goals for the first time in five starts. If Julien will be successful in his return to Montreal, he will need that kind of performance from Price on a regular basis.

Julien recognized that right away.

"Our timing was missing today, that was obvious," Julien said in his opening answer of his postgame press conference. "There are a lot of things we can talk about that we need to improve, but there were some good things as well.

"When you look at Carey Price, he was excellent today."

Price has been reluctant to talk about his lack of consistency over the past two months, but was able to admit that the five-day break did him some good. That will prove crucial for the Canadiens while Julien works to gradually implement more and more of his system over the coming games because it will give them some margin of error, assuming Price can maintain this level of play over several games, which has been the main problem of late.

"I didn't even think about hockey at all," Price said of his break. "I just put it to the back of my mind. That's what I do in the summer time. It's good to take a break from hockey every once in a while.

"Physically, I felt a little bit better. Not as worn down."

Julien might not have had anything to do with Price feeling more refreshed, but he did make some minor tweaks to the way Montreal plays and, more importantly, showed early on how he will deal with the Canadiens' young players.

Front and center on that list is center Alex Galchenyuk.

Galchenyuk began the game on the top line and ended it on the third line, but Julien showed how much leash he will be given to play through the mistakes in his own end that have become too prominent of late.

In the first period, Galchenyuk and his line got pinned in their own end, failing on numerous occasions to clear their zone. The shift ended when Laine walked around Galchenyuk and fired a shot labeled for the top corner but was intercepted by Price's glove.

That led to a television timeout, and coming out of the break Julien sent Galchenyuk right back on the ice. He responded by finding Max Pacioretty with a cross-ice pass that led to him finding Andrei Markov in front for Montreal's only goal of the game.

Video: WPG@MTL: Markov finishes off slick passing play

During a power play in the second period, Galchenyuk made a drop pass to Nathan Beaulieu in the neutral zone and Beaulieu coughed it up to Joel Armia, who scored on a breakaway to tie the game 1-1. The Canadiens got another power play just over two minutes later and Galchenyuk and Beaulieu were right back out there, with Galchenyuk setting up Beaulieu for a one-timer that forced Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck to make a tremendous save.

It is fair to assume that in each of those cases Julien's predecessor, Michel Therrien, would not have trusted Galchenyuk so soon after making such costly errors.

"I think you can expect that from me, but at the same time I'm not going to be generous here," Julien said. "I think people have to earn their way into those kind of situations. But mistakes are a part of the game sometimes, and you look at what kind of mistake it is. But you also have to, with younger players and certain players, you got to have some patience.

"This is the new NHL where, with the salary cap and everything else, you have young players in your lineup and part of it is if you want them to be better, you have to live with some of those mistakes. But you also have to show confidence that you know that player is capable of doing better, and in those cases they did."

Galchenyuk refused to speak to the media after what was a difficult game for him, but if Julien sticks to that philosophy, Galchenyuk might be able to blossom under him. For the Canadiens, who have very little organizational depth at center and therefore need Galchenyuk to become a legitimate top line pivot, it could be just as crucial as it is to have Price find his game again.

In each of those cases, we will need more time to properly evaluate. But after one game, the signs are encouraging.

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