Gainey gets Canadiens some punch

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:50 PM ET

Bob Gainey responded to the ravages of free agency by adding some punch — both scoring and of the knuckle sandwich variety.

While losing blossoming defenceman Mark Streit (New York Islanders) and inconsistent winger Michael Ryder (Boston), the Montreal Canadiens GM signed Robert Lang, Alex Tanguay and George Laraque. Lang and Tanguay have combined for almost 1,200 career points, while Laraque is nearing the 1,100 mark in penalty minutes.

“We were looking for another guy in that Top 6, and Tanguay is obviously the type of player we feel can step in,” assistant coach Kirk Muller said. “We added size with Georges. We’ve got a good skill team and all that ... I think having a guy like him in our group is something that we probably needed.”

But not as much of an intangible that a 12-game post-season run last spring brought the young Habs.

“I think most of all, what we were really hoping for last year was to get into the playoffs and get some of these guys experience,” Muller said. “I know it’s early, but just the confidence builder it was for this group, together. Coming into it at the start this year, they are more at ease.”

The key player for Montreal needed some repairs to his confidence over the summer. Goalie After a strong season, Carey Price wilted under playoff pressures.

Price spent the offseason getting better. He shaved about 20 pounds from his 6-foot-3 frame and worked on his technique. Now, the 21-year-old is anxious to redeem himself.

“I think it was a good experience for him to learn that this is a unique league, it’s the best in the world,” Muller said of Price, the former Canadian national junior team star and the fifth pick overall in the 2005 entry draft. “I think it humbled him a little bit, in a way. But that’s why he’s so good. He pushes himself. To see what he did in the summer ... he dropped 20, 25 pounds and worked hard. He wants to be good. That’s what all those great players do. It comes from themselves.”

The Habs finished last season atop the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Muller said the biggest concern is that the players remember what it took to get them there.

“We’re still young, and I think they have to understand why they were successful last year,” he said. “Look at the Top 8 ... two bad weeks and we’re not finishing first. We’re down in the pack. That’s how tight it is. A tap on the back to these guys, because they really did work hard last year.

“But they’ve got to understand. We do have skill, we do have talent, but teams are going to be gunning for us more this year. We’ve got to keep that work ethic up. If we don’t get out worked every night, that’s where your skill will be the difference. But if you don’t match the work ethic with some other teams, you in for a little bit of an awakening some nights. I think they’re aware of that right now.”


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