Montreal Canadiens look to continuity, more goals, as season opens against Toronto Maple Leafs

Montreal Canadiens look to continuity, more goals, as season opens against Toronto Maple Leafs

Main pic: Montreal Canadiens goaltender Mike Condon makes a save during second period pre-season exhibition NHL hockey action against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday, September 26, 2015. Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese.

BROSSARD, Que. — There was not much drama at the Montreal Canadiens camp this year.

There was Mike Condon’s successful campaign to unseat Dustin Tokarski as the backup goalie and plenty of candidates battling for spots on a fourth line that ended with Torrey Mitchell, Devante Smith−Pelley and Brian Flynn securing those positions.

But the bulk of the squad — the top three lines and three defence pairs — were together from the start of camp and should still be in place when the Canadiens open the regular season Wednesday night in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.

“We have a lot of guys in here that earned their spot last season,” goalie Carey Price said Tuesday. “It’s a pretty solid lineup.

“We like our group. The chemistry is great. There’s not much else to say.”

The Canadiens, who finished second overall in the 30−team NHL last season, were looking for more scoring and added veteran wingers Alex Semin, a free agent, and Tomas Fleischmann, a camp tryout, to an established set of forwards.

The season opener will be a first test under live fire for a new line that has Alex Galchenyuk moving from left wing to centre between Semin and Lars Eller. Galchenyuk had four points in as many games in the pre−season.

The first line has Tomas Plekanec between newly named captain Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. Centre David Desharnais is now on the third unit with Fleischmann and Dale Weise. Desharnais and Weise both averaged a point per game in exhibition play.

“I think we’re much further ahead now than we were a year ago at training camp,” said coach Michel Therrien. “We want to have stability because we added two guys in Semin and Fleischmann.

“It’s going to allow us to try to create chemistry as fast as possible and we’ve already been able to do that during training camp.”

The defence pairs are the same: P.K. Subban with Andrei Markov; Jeff Petry with Alexei Emelin; and Tom Gilbert with Nathan Beaulieu.

Price is looking to repeat a 2014−’15 campaign that saw him claim the Hart Trophy as league MVP and Vezina as top goaltender.

The Canadiens will face a rebuilding Toronto squad under new head coach Mike Babcock, although games between the rivals are usually close no matter which team is up or down in the rankings.

“They’re going through a transition, as opposed to us, we’re all set,” said Plekanec. “Everything’s pretty much stabilized, every player knows his role and knows his job to do.

“I’m sure, in a couple of years, they’ll find that too.”

The Canadiens made their final moves, sending forward Jacob de la Rose to St. John’s of the AHL and taking tenacious, five−foot−seven winger Paul Byron off waivers from the Calgary Flames. The team wants the 20−year−old de la Rose to play regularly while 26−year−old Byron should see spot duty in Montreal.

A distraction the last days of camp came from winger Zack Kassian, acquired in an off−season trade with Vancouver. He entered the league’s and players association’s substance abuse program after he was involved in a car accident early Sunday morning. Kassian is suspended without pay while in the program.

His teammates are focused on getting a good start to the season.

“First and foremost we’re happy he or any of the people with him aren’t hurt,” said Price. “The priority is that everyone’s OK, physically.

“Obviously he has our support.”

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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