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Galchenyuk's role poses question for Canadiens

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens enter this season with certainty in goal. Everything else is up for debate.

Goaltender Carey Price's excellent play last season (44-16-6, 1.96 goals-against average, .933 save percentage) covered up many of the Canadiens' issues. If Price, who won the Hart and Vezina trophies, is unable to produce a similarly historic season, those deficiencies will become serious problems unless they are corrected.

Here are three questions facing the Canadiens:

Will Alex Galchenyuk play center? Galchenyuk has been viewed as the future first-line center since Montreal selected him with the No. 3 pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. But at the end of last season, general manager Marc Bergevin suggested Galchenyuk might never become an NHL center.

Galchenyuk, 21, has always said he will play where he's told, and he reiterated that after signing a two-year, $5.6 million contract July 30. Coach Michel Therrien has not closed the door on using Galchenyuk at center, but he said he will do so only if Galchenyuk is comfortable.

"I'm not going to put Galchenyuk in a position where he's going to lose his confidence," Therrien said. "You don't want young kids to lose their confidence."

Therrien used Galchenyuk at center between Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher for 12 games last season, from Dec. 9 to Jan. 10. Playing together, Pacioretty had six goals and 13 points, Galchenyuk had four goals and nine points, and Gallagher had four goals and seven points; they were Montreal’s top three scoring forwards over that period, according to war-on-ice.com.

Moving Galchenyuk to center pushed David Desharnais to the wing, and he responded by scoring four of his 14 goals in that 12-game span.

"Whether he's going to be a centerman, whether he's going to play on the wing, we'll find out pretty quick," Therrien said of Galchenyuk.

Can the power play improve? The Canadiens were 23rd in the NHL in power-play efficiency (16.5 percent) last season and scored twice on 36 opportunities in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The ingredients for a successful power play appear to be in place, led by passer Andrei Markov, shooter P.K. Subban and scorer Pacioretty. Having defenseman Jeff Petry from the start of the season may help, and forwards Alexander Semin and Zack Kassian, acquired this offseason, will be given an opportunity.

The talent is there, and the burden of improving the power play falls on Therrien and his staff, specifically assistant Dan Lacroix, who runs the unit.

Who will score? Bergevin said at the end of last season that if the power play improves, the Canadiens 20th-ranked offense will improve with it.

But even if the Canadiens power play scored at 20 percent last season instead of 16.5 percent, it would have resulted in eight more goals, or about one every 10 games. That would have left the Canadiens 17th in the NHL in offense.

The Canadiens would be better served by improving their 5-on-5 scoring, which ranked 19th last season. Semin might help, as would an increase in production from Galchenyuk and Gallagher, but an argument could be made that the problem is tactical.

Montreal ranked 22nd in score-adjusted shot attempt percentage (SAT) last season at 48.6 percent, according to war-on-ice.com. Of the top 10 teams in that metric, six were ranked in the top 10 in 5-on-5 goals, including four of the top five scoring teams.

The Canadiens’ score-adjusted SAT improved to 52.2 percent in the playoffs, second in the NHL, albeit in far fewer games. They hope that will carry over into this season.

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