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Galchenyuk gives Canadiens boost in opener

by Tim Wharnsby

TORONTO -- The Montreal Canadiens received the kind of play they have been accustomed to from Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Carey Price in their season opener Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But to see Alex Galchenyuk score his first regular-season game-winning goal since Dec. 16, 2014 in his first game as Montreal's second-line center was a welcome sight for the Canadiens in their 3-1 win against the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.

In his first three NHL seasons, Galchenyuk primarily has played the wing. Though last season was his most productive in the NHL, with 20 goals, the Montreal coaching staff wanted to see the 21-year-old become more involved and shoot more.

"There is no doubt we would like to see him taking the option of shooting the puck," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said.

Last season Galchenyuk was fifth on the Canadiens with 163 shots on goal, 139 behind team-leader Pacioretty.

Galchenyuk was a natural center and put up some impressive numbers with Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League. He had 31 goals and 83 points in 68 games in his first season, when he turned 17 late in the season.

But after a knee injury sidelined him for most of the next season, Galchenyuk returned in 2012-13 for his final season of junior to find himself on the wing of a high-scoring line that included center Charles Sarault and Reid Boucher.

Galchenyuk scored 27 goals in 33 games before he departed to play for the United States at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship. When he arrived at Canadiens training camp in January 2013, Therrien played him at wing.

Montreal struggled to score last season, finishing 20th in non-shootout goals with 214, the fewest among the 16 teams that made the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There was little doubt Tomas Plekanec, Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher were Montreal's top line Wednesday against Toronto. But to see Galchenyuk score an important goal alongside new linemates Lars Eller and Alexander Semin was not lost on his teammates.

"No. 1, I look forward to watching his progress as a player in this League," Subban said. "He continues to mature. People forget how young he is. He's unbelievable for his age. He's just going to continue to get better.

"Today was the perfect example of him maturing. You could see the puck was bouncing all over the place. He stuck with it and stuck with it and he was finally rewarded for it. You have to give him some credit."

Price, the reigning Hart and Vezina trophy winner, made 36 saves. The only shot to beat him was a deflection off the leg of Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk in the second period that tied the game 1-1.

With the Maple Leafs pressing late, Price made a breakaway save on Peter Holland, and then a few shifts later put his left pad down to stop Holland twice during a power play.

"Carey Price was Carey Price," Therrien said. "It was nice to see that in his first game he was as sharp as he was. He was a big part of this win."

Pacioretty, in his first game as Canadiens captain, scored the first goal of the 2015-16 season off a pinpoint stretch pass from Subban, and later scored an empty-net goal.

Pacioretty's behind-the-back pass from the corner set up defenseman Jeff Petry for a second-period goal that was overturned because of goaltender interference on the first coach's challenge in NHL history.

"At the end of the day, whether you have an A or a C you have to go out and play," said Subban, who had three assists and led the Canadiens in ice time at 24:35. "I don't think it changes anything for [Max].

"He has to be on his game. He's one of best players. As a top player in this League, you're expected to be at your best every night."

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