By Bill Beacon
THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL _ The Montreal Canadiens feel they are ready to contend for a Stanley Cup.
They certainly have the goaltending to do it in Carey Price, who won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player and the Vezina as top goaltender last season.
They’ve got a solid defence led by 2013 Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban and veteran Andrei Markov.
They have a scoring ace in newly named captain Max Pacioretty, and they are hoping that moving 21-year-old Alex Galchenyuk to centre will give them two potent scoring lines.
Whether it happens or not, their top stars are entering the prime of their careers and some feel the time to go for it is now.
Subban said as much when the team returned for the start of training camp.
“I’m a firm believer that with the group we have in this room that we have a chance to do something special this year,” said Subban, adding that if the team is in good position when the trade deadline approaches in March that management might pick up “a couple of pieces to put us over the top.
“People say we’re a young team and we are, but there’s no question in my mind that we’re a contender.”
The Canadiens reached the Eastern Conference final two seasons ago and were second overall in the 30-team league in the regular season in 2014-15 before bowing out in the second round to the Tampa Bay Lightning. So they are not far off.
But they will need to improve their attack to make a serious run. Last season, they were 20th in the league with 214 goals scored and their power play ranked 23rd at a meagre 16.5 per cent.
Their first act was to move Galchenyuk, the third overall draft pick of 2012, to centre after three years spent mostly on left wing. They are counting on the gifted playmaker to take the next step to becoming a bona-fide first line centre.
Lars Eller was moved to left wing on Galchenyuk’s line with free agent signing Alexander Semin on right wing. Pacioretty is on the left side with centre Tomas Plekanec and gritty Brendan Gallagher.
That line’s former centre, David Desharnais, has looked good on the third trio, possibly with heady veteran Tomas Fleischmann, a camp try-out, and grinder Dale Weise.
Assistant coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault has taken over running the power play from Dan Lacroix, who now handles penalty killing.
Gone are right winger P.A. Parenteau and the popular Brandon Prust, who was traded for the younger Zack Kassian. The fourth line also has veteran Torrey Mitchell, a fitter-looking Devante Smith-Pelley or Brian Flynn.
The Canadiens feel they pulled off a coup by re-signing potential free agent Jeff Petry, who joined last season from Edmonton and gave them a strong second pair, either with Alexei Emelin or youngster Nathan Beaulieu. Tom Gilbert and Greg Pateryn are options as third-pair defenceman.
They may look to cut down 37-year-old Markov’s minutes to keep him fresher for the post-season.
Whether that makes a contending team remains to be seen. Eller agrees with Subban, with some reservations.
“I guess you can say that,” said Eller. “It seems to be the peak of a lot of players’ careers, so the next couple of years is where we should have the best chance to succeed.
“There are a lot of things that need to jell, and things to happen at the right time. But I like the direction we’ve been going the last three years. I think we need a little more, but the experience we’ve been gaining is going to be very valuable.