TORONTO — The Montreal Canadiens scored the third-least amount of goals last season and finished fourth from the bottom in the league’s standings.
But recently-acquired winger Max Domi is hopeful next year’s team can find the back of the net with greater frequency, especially if he can have a bounce-back campaign of his own.
"I think, as a group, we’re going to have to all just be better and up our game a little bit," he said in a phone interview last week while in Toronto for DSkate, a hockey camp for kids with Type 1 diabetes.
"It’s going to be tough. But, obviously, no doubt in my mind that we can do it. And, I mean, when you’ve got a goalie like Carey Price, guys like Shea Weber, (Max) Pacioretty, (Brendan) Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, the list goes on of all these outstanding hockey players, you have the pieces it takes to win and it’s just a matter of making it all work. I’m excited to fit in whatever way I’m asked to and make it work, so it’s going to be a great year."
Besides acquiring Domi in a deal with the Arizona Coyotes for fellow young forward Alex Galchenyuk and re-signing him to a two-year, US$6.3-million contract the Habs have had a relatively quiet off-season.
They brought back longtime Canadiens forward and 35-year-old free agent centre Tomas Plekanec, re-signed Phillip Danault and Joel Armia, who was picked up with two draft picks from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for taking on Steve Mason and also selected Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the No. 3 overall pick at the NHL Draft.
Trading for the 23-year-old Domi was Montreal’s biggest splash, and the Canadiens will be counting on him to help solve some of team’s goal-scoring woes.
The play-making winger broke onto the NHL scene with an 18-goal, 52-point rookie season, but fractured a bone in his hand during a fight in his sophmore year, finishing with nine goals and 38 points in 59 games.
Domi is coming off a second straight disappointing year with nine goals — including four empty-netters — and 45 points last season. He insists he doesn’t have to change his play-making style for more goals of his own and isn’t focusing on any personal milestones.
"I think we all have the same goals and that’s to win hockey games. I mean, the rest takes care of itself," he said.
"It’s not easy to do in the NHL. It’s a tough league — it’s the hardest league in the world — and we’re going to have to come together as a group, so that’s what it’s going to come down to and we’re excited for the challenge."
The Canadiens will also be hoping for a return to form from veteran stars such as Pacioretty, who failed to score 30 goals for the first time since the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, as well as Price, who was plagued by injuries. Weber is expected to be out until December following surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Montreal faces stiff competition in the Atlantic Division, which features the Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning, as well as the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, the latter of which he grew up rooting for as the son of the club’s longtime enforcer, Tie Domi.
Despite his family’s links to Toronto, he said his father won’t have any trouble changing allegiances.
"That’s a no-brainer, he’s going to cheer for me no matter what. I don’t think it really matters where he played," said Domi.
"It’s great. It’s going to be different for him to look at a Montreal Canadiens jersey with his last name on it, but I think to a certain extent it comes with a lot of pride and he’s really excited about it too."
But that doesn’t mean he’s abandoned his love for all things blue and white.
Even though he’ll be donning a Habs jersey in the fall, Domi will wear No. 13 in a nod to his favourite player growing up, Leafs legend Mats Sundin.
Moreover, he’s excited to play for an Original Six franchise and the heated games that come along with it.
"Growing up in Toronto, you’re always surrounded with that — the Boston Bruins, the Montreal Canadiens — I mean the rivalries and the Saturday nights, the "Hockey Night in Canada" and all that stuff, that’s what you kind of grow up hoping to play in … big games are what you play for."
"So I think all we’re really focused on now is finding ways to make this team a Stanley Cup winner again and we’ve got the pieces to do it and I’m really excited about that, so lot of work ahead of ourselves, but it’s going to be a fun year."