BROSSARD, Que. — The Montreal Canadiens want to build off the good vibe they had last season.
The Canadiens opened training camp Thursday with few jobs open on a team that finished second overall in the 30-team NHL with a 50-22-10 record for 110 points, although they were beaten in six games in the second round of playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“The group as a whole is the closest it’s been on any team I’ve played for,” said defenceman Jeff Petry, who joined the Canadiens in a trade from Edmonton last March and signed a new deal in the off-season. “No cliques going in their own direction. Everyone’s going the same direction and has the same goal.”
General manager Marc Bergevin tinkered with his roster last season, adding Petry and forwards Torrey Mitchell, Devante Smith-Pelley and Brian Flynn through in-season trades.
They hope to be more effective starting from the beginning in Montreal.
The 27-year-old Petry opted to stay with the club on a US$33-million, six-year contract rather than test free agency, where he would have been a hot commodity.
Several players, including star goalie Carey Price, spoke of being pleasantly surprised to retain Petry, who boosted the right side of the second defence pair with a strong two-way game.
“When I came here I felt welcomed,” said Petry. “I made some quick friendships and really got along with guys on the team. That made the decision pretty easy.”
There are two main issues going into camp.
First is the management’s decision to move promising Alex Galchenyuk from left wing to centre, which will bump an established centre — likely David Desharnais — to the wing.
Then there is the announcement that a captain will be named by the end of camp after going with four alternates last season: P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec. Speculation will fly over that race, where Subban and Pacioretty are widely seen as a the front-runners.
There is not likely to be a lot of change on the roster.
In goal, Price is looking to improve on a spectacular 2014-’15 in which he won the Hart, Lindsay, Vezina and Jennings trophies. His experienced backup is Dustin Tokarski and rookie Zach Fucale will try to make a favourable impression in camp.
On defence, youngsters Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn emerged as regulars late in the season, joining Subban, Markov, Petry, Alexei Emelin and Tom Gilbert. Towering Jarred Tinordi and former Tampa Bay rearguard Mark Barberio will be looking to displace one of that group.
The centres look to be Plekanec, Galchenyuk, Mitchell and Lars Eller. Pacioretty, Desharnais, sophomore Jacob de la Rose and Michael Bournival are back on left wing, with veteran Tomas Fleischmann in camp on a tryout.
There’s a glut on the right side with Brendan Gallagher, Dale Weise, Smith-Pelley and newly acquired Zach Kassian, as well as Flynn and off-season signing Alexander Semin.
The Canadiens allowed the fewest goals in the NHL last season, but they hope to improve on an attack that ranked 20th in the league and a power play that scored on only 16.5 per cent of its chances and was punchless in the playoffs.
“Everyone says the power play struggled, but we had great personnel,” said Beaulieu. “I don’t think the changes are as big as some people think they need to be.”
The first day was given over to physical tests and photo shoots and players will have their first on-ice workouts on Friday. None of the long-standing veterans or coaches were made available to the media.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press