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Power play, Galchenyuk among Canadiens' X-factors

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

The Montreal Canadiens have a glaring need for offense, but it's not yet clear where it will come from.

In order to improve on their 20th-ranked 2.61 goals per game from last season, the Canadiens made a number of offseason tweaks without a big splash.

General manager Marc Bergevin signed free agent forward Alexander Semin and acquired Zack Kassian from the Vancouver Canucks in a trade for Brandon Prust.

Each player comes with a checkered history, but they also have clear offensive talent.

The ability of one or both of those players to bounce back and take full advantage of his skills would help the Canadiens offensively, but that might not be enough to solve the problem.

Here are three other X-factors that will impact Montreal's offensive issues:

Fixing the power play: One of the main reasons Bergevin signed Semin was to help a power play that finished 23rd last season.

Semin is coming off the worst season of his NHL career, but he has something the Canadiens have been seeking for years: a dangerous right-handed shot.

Daniel Briere and PA Parenteau were brought in to provide that but each lasted one season in Montreal.

Having a right-handed shot on the power play could free up defenseman P.K. Subban for one-timers by forcing penalty killers away from the left point. If Semin can provide a deterrent to opposing forwards cheating toward Subban, the Canadiens power play should be able to use its biggest threat more often.

"They have to make a decision," Subban said. "The power play is all about forcing the [penalty kill] to make decisions in terms of who they want to give up and what they want to give up, and then it's up to those players to capitalize and make them pay."

The power play will be run by assistant coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault and coaching consultant Craig Ramsay, two new voices who might breathe life into a unit that grew stale last season under assistant coach Dan Lacroix.

Alex Galchenyuk playing center: The Canadiens are committed to giving Galchenyuk a real chance to play center this season, and the success of that move might have the biggest impact on the team offensively.

Galchenyuk, 21, could be the most skilled forward on the Canadiens, a natural center who can beat defenders 1-on-1 and make plays to set up teammates. Having a player like that in the middle could be the difference between Montreal being a good team and a great one.

If Galchenyuk thrives at center between Lars Eller and Semin, it would allow David Desharnais to center a third scoring line, something the Canadiens lacked last season. It also would lessen the offensive burden on Max Pacioretty, Montreal's only consistent goal scorer, and force opposing coaches into a difficult decision when deploying their top defensive players.

Defensive pairs: The Canadiens will start the season with Subban paired with Andrei Markov, Jeff Petry with Alexei Emelin, and Nathan Beaulieu with Tom Gilbert.

The best thing that could happen is Beaulieu forcing Therrien to give him more than third-pair minutes.

Markov has had a severe dip in play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons, and at 36 it would be wise to manage his minutes in the regular season to keep him fresh for the postseason.

It is more difficult to cut Markov's minutes if he continues to play with Subban.

If Beaulieu shows he can handle the responsibility of taking Markov's place, which would mean facing top forwards every night, it would allow Markov to play fewer minutes paired with Petry and push Emelin out of the top-four into a third-pair role that would be more appropriate for him.

It also would give the Canadiens four puck-movers on their top two pairs, which definitely would help the offense.

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