October 11, 2016 - 7:50 AM
MONTREAL - After an epic collapse last season, there were bound to be changes on the Montreal Canadiens.
The club began the 2015-16 campaign with a record nine-game winning streak and was 19-4-3 on Dec. 1, but with star goalie Carey Price gone for the rest of the season due to a knee injury suffered on Nov. 25, they lost nine of their next 10 games and spiralled down to 13th in the NHL Eastern Conference.
A team that considered itself a Stanley Cup contender ended up 38-38-6 and missed the playoffs.
Most teams would have begun by firing the coach, but general manager Marc Bergevin was quick to announce that Michel Therrien will be back for a fifth season.
Instead, Bergevin traded the team's biggest personality, flashy defenceman P.K. Subban, for highly regarded Shea Weber in a straight-up swap of right-side rearguards with the Nashville Predators.
The addition of gritty winger Andrew Shaw from Chicago and gifted free-agent forward Alexander Radulov further changed the look of a team that management determined was short on character, toughness and experience.
"That was something I think that we, as an organization, tried to reach out and get this off-season with Shaw and Shea," said defenceman Nathan Beaulieu. "We didn't want to be pushed around at all and we felt, in some situations, we were."
Winger Brendan Gallagher, an alternate captain, said the biggest change is in the team's attitude.
"We're more mature from what we went through last year," he said. "As painful as it was, I think we all learned some very important lessons about what it's going to take to be successful.
"Coming in here, everyone's been positive. Everyone's had a good attitude and that's a big step in the right direction for us."
Of course, the biggest factor is having Price back. The veteran considered by many as the world's best goaltender showed he is back to top shape while helping Canada win the World Cup of Hockey. He alone makes Montreal a contender.
And the Canadiens hope that having his Canada teammate Weber's menacing presence near his net for 20-plus minutes per game will help keep Price healthy. A few western players have expressed relief at seeing Weber leave their conference.
"He brings a presence," said Gallagher. "He'll be an important piece on our team.
"He helps us all over the rink. On offence, I don't think there's anyone in the world who can shoot like he can."
Fourteen of Weber's 20 goals for Nashville last season came on the power play, one of the key areas the Canadiens want to improve. Last season, they had a feeble 16.2 per cent success rate, 25th in the 30-team league.
Bringing back assistant coach Kirk Muller, whose strength is special teams, should help. Muller should also help communications between the coaching staff and the players.
Weber is expected to start the season paired with 24-year-old Beaulieu, a 2011 first-round pick who they hope can replace at least some of Subban's skating and puck-carrying abilities.
They also want to limit 37-year-old Andrei Markov's minutes on the second pair with Jeff Petry to keep him fresher through the season. Greg Pateryn, Alexei Emelin and newcomer Zach Redmond should see third-pair action, but there is a chance impressive 2016 first-rounder Mikhail Sergachev will see NHL action.
One major change actually began late last season, when 2012 third-overall pick Alex Galchenyuk moved from left wing to centre on the top line and went on a tear to post his first 30-goal season. He'll start there this season between Gallagher and captain Max Pacioretty looking to establish himself as a first-line centre.
On the second unit, veteran centre Tomas Plekanec may finally have skilled wingers with Radulov and rookie Artturi Lehkonen and that may finally give the Canadiens two consistent scoring lines.
It would bump centre David Desharnais to the third line with Shaw and likely Dan Carr, a scorer who likes to go to the net.
Torrey Mitchell, Phillip Danault, Paul Byron and Brian Flynn are likely fourth-liners.
Veteran Al Montoya was signed to back up Price in goal. Rookie Mike Condon was thrust into the starting job when Price was injured last season but it appears he will play in the AHL.
Others gone from last year's team include centre Lars Eller and defencemen Tom Gilbert and Victor Bartley.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016