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Therrien, like GM, defends Canadiens' style, system

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

TERREBONNE, Quebec -- On July 2, one day after NHL free agency opened, Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin met with the media to discuss their moves.

Bergevin was asked about the defensive style of play employed by Canadiens coach Michel Therrien. In response, Bergevin got, well, defensive.

Bergevin fired back at the reporter to identify one aspect of the Canadiens system that makes it so defensive, and claimed the style they play is not much different from the one used by the majority of teams in the NHL.

"What do we do differently than other teams that makes us a defensive team?" Bergevin asked, annoyed with the line of questioning.

During the press conference, Bergevin said he did not feel the Canadiens would be any better off if they allowed 20 more goals in order to score 20 more; he said he feels the lack of offense could be addressed if the power play were to improve on its 16.5 percent success rate of last season.

But at the core -- and Bergevin has repeated this on numerous occasions -- the Canadiens' strength lies in goal with Carey Price and, to a slightly lesser extent, on defense with P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov and Jeff Petry.

If the Canadiens finish 20th in scoring but first in goals allowed, as they did last season, they should be on the winning side more often than not.

The concern is whether Price will be able to repeat the historic season he just completed. If not, will the Canadiens' lack of offense come back to bite them?

This is why the perception the Canadiens use a stifling defensive style persists in Montreal, and six weeks after his general manager faced questions on it, it was Therrien's turn to do the same this week.

Hosting his annual charity golf tournament just outside Montreal on Tuesday, one that raised a record $226,000 for the Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation despite being rained out, Therrien took a much calmer approach to the questioning than his general manager did.

"People have a right to their opinions," Therrien said. "We play an aggressive style, a responsible style, that's how we see it. The primary objective is to win games and to improve. If you look at how far we've come over the past three years, I like the direction our team is going."

In Therrien's three seasons since returning to coach Montreal, the Canadiens have 273 points in the regular-season standings, the sixth highest total in the NHL over that span. There are three teams that have played more than the six rounds in the Stanley Cup Playoffs the Canadiens have in the past three seasons: the Chicago Blackhawks (11), New York Rangers (nine) and Los Angeles Kings (seven).

Yet the Canadiens are far from perfect. They finished in the bottom third in the NHL last season in goals, power-play efficiency, shots on goal, shot attempt percentage, and a number of other offensive statistics advanced and traditional. But Therrien is undeterred and remains confident in the system he has in place.

"We have a plan, we have a philosophy, we know how we want to play," he said. "We want to be an aggressive team, a team that works hard. In terms of work ethic, I think we were one of the hardest-working teams last season."

Bergevin attempted to help boost the offense by signing forward Alexander Semin to a one-year contract, a player coming off the worst season of his NHL career but one who has a proven track record of production.

Therrien said he sees Semin having an impact on the Canadiens power play, which finished 23rd in the NHL last season.

"Acquiring a guy like Semin adds someone who has had a lot of success on the power play in the past," he said. "He's someone who has vision offensively, who can score and who can make plays. So someone like him, if he's at the top of his game, can surely help our power play."

Canadiens assistant coach Dan Lacroix is responsible for the power play, and he welcomes the addition of Semin and forward Zack Kassian, who was acquired in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks for Brandon Prust. But Lacroix is also excited by the thought of having Petry all season, a right-handed defenseman who provides the Canadiens with different options with righty Subban and left-handed shots Markov and Nathan Beaulieu.

"It's a bit early a month away from camp to know who will play on special teams, but having [Semin and Kassian] is a positive," Lacroix said Tuesday. "Petry also did some good work for us and gave us the option of having two righties and two lefties [on the points]. We talked about those things at the end of the season. It's a very thin line between generating scoring chances and putting the puck in the net. We're working so that it goes in the net on more of our scoring chances."

The Canadiens generated the third-fewest scoring chances per 60 minutes of power-play time in the NHL, ahead of the Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators, and were 18th in the NHL in shooting percentage on the power play, according to war-on-ice.com.

If each of those numbers increases this season, the Canadiens offense might not look nearly as dry as it did last season. Or it could happen if Semin and Kassian bounce back and reach their offensive potential. Or if young forwards Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher take another step in their development and increase their production.

So it would be fair to say there are a lot of variables involved when discussing the Canadiens and their offensive potential. But as far as Therrien is concerned, style of play is not one of them.

"We play an aggressive style," he repeated. "We need to be really responsible without the puck and really responsible with the puck. Teams that win the Stanley Cup, this is what they do. Because our ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup, we pay attention to that."

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