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Therrien can hit the ground running with Canadiens

by Arpon Basu

– When a coach takes over a new team, often times he can avoid answering specific questions about the changes that need to be made by saying he hasn't seen his new team often enough.

Michel Therrien didn't have that luxury when he was named coach of the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.

Through his work as an analyst for RDS the past year, Therrien very closely watched the Canadiens and picked their games apart on the all-sports network's post-game show.


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The one thing that appears to have jumped out to Therrien from the Canadiens' 2011-12 season -- where they finished 28th overall in the NHL standings -- was an unwillingness to work.

"I want to give this team a work ethic, a level of discipline that will be exemplary," Therrien said in his opening statement at Tuesday's press conference. "I want fans to be proud to come to the Bell Centre and cheer on a team that works hard."

Therrien said he feels the Canadiens have the potential to make the playoffs as soon as next season, citing a strong first line of David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole, a good second line center in Tomas Plekanec, a defense that will benefit from a healthy Andrei Markov and finally, an elite goaltender in Carey Price.

But the team was decimated by injuries, losing 440 man games over the season, and had a horrible habit of blowing leads in the third periods of games – finishing last in the NHL in winning percentage when leading after two periods.

"It was the work ethic," Therrien insisted. "People make mistakes, you can accept that. Discipline, work ethic, commitment; those are things that are more important to me. … We need our team to be in shape. We can't have another season with close to 450 man games lost to injury. This is my first time here in Brossard [at the team's practice facility] and I'm pretty impressed. The facilities here have to be the best in the NHL, so the players are lucky to have this. It's a positive, motivating environment."

On the specific players he's inheriting, Therrien says his first order of business will be to talk to his captain, Brian Gionta, to get a feel for his new team.

But there are two players in particular that Therrien will need to manage, and one of them was the subject of a lot of criticism from the coach on TV over the past season.

Scott Gomez had an injury-plagued season, but his production was a fraction of his career output for a second straight year.

"He's a part of the team," Therrien said. "He had a tough year last year, but my job is to put a plan together for the team, of adding structure, having a system that will balance offense and defense, and after that, I have to get the most out of every single player. I have to make sure players are on board and that they show leadership on and off the ice."

Another player that has a reputation as being difficult to coach – whether it's warranted or not – is defenseman P.K. Subban, but Therrien is excited about the idea of having him under his watch.

"He's a thoroughbred, and you need those types of players if you want to win the race," Therrien said. "There's no doubt it will be a great challenge for me, and I want to make sure he brings some good leadership to the club."

Therrien's previous stop in Pittsburgh had him coaching both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their respective rookie seasons, and he said what he saw from Crosby in Pittsburgh will become a standard with which he will push his players in Montreal.

"Sidney Crosby is probably one of the best leaders that I know in the game because he wants to get better all the time, and when we're talking about leadership, this is leadership for me," Therrien said. "Players have no choice but to follow that leadership during practice, during games, during fitness [training]. This is what I'm going to ask our players -- to be good leaders."

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