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Price, special teams are keys to Canadiens success

by Sean Farrell continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

Coming off their most successful season in years, the Montreal Canadiens enter 2014-15 trending upwards. Carey Price, P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty are entering their peak seasons; veterans Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec demonstrated their value during Montreal's run to the Eastern Conference Final in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; and young, homegrown talent abounds in the likes of Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Michael Bournival, Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi.

A Stanley Cup used to be the measure of success for a Canadiens season, but the most recent championship banner was raised to commemorate the 1993 Cup. A generation of fans that has grown up without a championship of its own was supercharged by the excitement generated by a first-round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning and an always-satisfying win against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Second Round.

So however success now is measured in Montreal, it begins with a return trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here are three keys to making that happen:

1. Carey Price has to stay healthy -- Goaltending coach Stephane Waite's first season in Montreal working with Price paid immediate dividends.

In 59 starts Price went 34-20-5 with a 2.32 goals-against average, six shutouts and a .927 save percentage that was fourth in the NHL. Price beat out Roberto Luongo to become the No. 1 goalie for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and helped lead the team to its second straight gold medal, wrapping up the tournament with a 3-0 win against Sweden in the gold-medal game final for his second shutout in five games.

Price had an 8-3 mark through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but his postseason came to an abrupt end when he sustained a right knee injury in a goalmouth collision with New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Final.

Coach Michel Therrien elected to bypass regular backup Peter Budaj and go with rookie Dustin Tokarski, a move that produced two wins against the Rangers.

It also spoke to the importance of Price shouldering the lion's share of the goaltending.

"We all were really impressed about Carey's play last year," Therrien said. "First of all, about his maturity, about the way he was capable to perform under pressure. He went to the Olympics. That was a huge year for him; and good for us too. And he needs to make sure he remains the same goalie, working with Stephane Waite, working on the little details of his game. He's a young veteran. He's part of the core of leadership to that group and we know with Carey he's going in the right direction and this is the least of my worries right now."

2. Stay out of the penalty box -- The Canadiens were shorthanded 289 times in 2013-14; only six teams gave opponents more power plays. They spent 494:47 killing penalties; only the Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers spent more time shorthanded. Montreal's saving grace was an 85.1-percent success rate in killing penalties, the fourth-highest in the League.

Any slip in that efficiency will make all those penalties costlier, so discipline will be paramount.

3. Improve the power play -- The Canadiens have a pair of elite point men in Subban and Markov, and the addition of Tom Gilbert gives Therrien an option he has been missing at the point on the second power-play unit, one that hopefully gives Montreal a shot at improving its success rate with the man-advantage.

The Canadiens were in the middle of the pack with 48 power-play goals in 279 chances for a 17.2-percent success rate.

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