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5 Questions: Montreal Canadiens

Alexander Radulov's contributions, improving power play among top factors

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Montreal Canadiens:

 

Will the power play finally work?

The Canadiens' power play was 25th in the NHL in each of the past two seasons. It was 21st the season before that.

During that same span, from 2013-14 to 2015-16, defenseman Shea Weber, acquired in a trade with the Nashville Predators on June 29, scored 31 power play goals, tied with Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars for eighth in the League.

During those same three seasons P.K. Subban, the defenseman the Canadiens traded to the Predators for Weber, scored 14 power-play goals, but had 68 power-play points, one more than Weber.

So that might wind up being a wash.

The biggest addition the Canadiens made to address their power play was hiring associate coach Kirk Muller, who could have more impact on that unit than Weber.

Muller ran the St. Louis Blues' power play the past two seasons. They were sixth in the League last season and fourth in 2014-15. Muller's previous experience as an assistant coach was with the Canadiens from 2006-11. In those five seasons their power play led the NHL twice and was second once.

Scoring goals remains Montreal's biggest weakness. The addition of Muller could fix that.

Video: TOR@MTL: Weber finds back of the net from blue line

 

Is Alex Galchenyuk ready to take another step?

Last summer Galchenyuk was told by coach Michel Therrien he would move from left wing to center. It didn't quite work out that way.

In the midst of the Canadiens' struggles following the season-ending knee injury sustained by goaltender Carey Price on Nov. 25, 2015, Therrien decided to move Galchenyuk back to left wing in mid-December and make David Desharnais the No. 1 center. An injury to Desharnais on Feb. 15 forced Therrien to move Galchenyuk back to center, and he responded by scoring 16 goals in his final 22 games.

This summer Galchenyuk was told not only would he be expected to have a bigger role, he also received a call from Muller shortly after he was hired June 2. Aside from the power play, Galchenyuk's progression is another area where Muller might have a big impact.

Galchenyuk scored 30 goals last season for the first time in his NHL career, and at 22 is entering his fifth season. His goal output has risen from nine as a rookie to 13 to 20 to 30. There is no reason to believe that trajectory will be altered this season. 

Video: TOR@MTL: Galchenyuk buries sweet pass from Radulov

 

Can there be a cap on Andrei Markov's minutes?

Therrien said during training camp the goal is to play Markov, who turns 38 on Dec. 20, about 20 minutes a game. It would be his lowest average ice time for season in which he's played more than 50 games since 2001-02, his second season in the NHL, when he averaged 17:15 per game in 56 games.

Markov's usage has gone from a career high 25:14 per game in 2013-14, to 24:54 in 2014-15 to 23:50 last season. But getting from there to 20 minutes is a big drop.

It would be important for Therrien to do this because Markov's play has dipped noticeably later in the season in each of the past three seasons. Perhaps if rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, the ninth pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, can progress, Therrien will be able to give him some of Markov's ice time, especially on the power play. But if that doesn't happen, or if Nathan Beaulieu falters on the top pair with Weber, Markov's ice time could be more than 20 per game, not less.

 

Is Alexander Radulov the solution to the secondary scoring problems?

Radulov, 30, signed a one-year contract reportedly worth $5.75 million July 1 knowing he would have a top-six role, and that Montreal needed his offensive talent. He showed it in the preseason with five points in three games.

During the past two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, Radulov had 136 points (47 goals, 89 assists) in 99 games; no one had more. In his prior experience in the NHL, parts of three seasons with the Predators from 2006-12, had 102 points (47 goals, 55 assists) in 154 games, so there shouldn't be too much of a transition needed. His new teammates have been impressed by his work ethic and focus in training camp, not to mention his talent.

So far, so good.

 

Is Carey Price ready to pick up where he left off?

Price's 5-0-0 record, 1.40 goals-against average and .957 save percentage in helping Team Canada win the championship at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 emphatically answered that question. There is little doubt he is the same goalie he was before he had the knee injury that ended last season for him in November.

What remains to be seen is how the Canadiens manage his workload during the season. They want him to play no more than 60 games, which would be six fewer than he played two seasons ago when he won the Hart and Vezina trophies.

The ability of Al Montoya, signed as an unrestricted free agent July 1, to adequately play those other 22 games will go a long way in determining whether the Canadiens can stick to their plan for Price this season.

Video: TOR@MTL: Matthews beats Price with PPG

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