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Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien goes over a play with David Desharnais, left, and Max Pacioretty, right, during a team practice. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien goes over a play with David Desharnais, left, and Max Pacioretty, right, during a team practice. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

For now, the Montreal Canadiens are full of optimism Add to ...

When margins between failure and success are fantastically thin, small advantages matter, which is why hockey players constantly talk about the game’s mental aspect. It’s the one sure place to find an edge.

Thus, psychologizing is not something that begins or ends in the National Hockey League so much as it is a constant process thrumming in the background. It only gets louder when a group of players must deal with the additional stresses and preoccupations of returning to the ice on the heels of a terrible season.

Summer training efforts are propelled by the desire for atonement (“It’s in the back of your head for sure, you try a little harder,” said Montreal Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry), and that missing the playoffs won’t be tolerated.

Montreal Canadiens centre Alex Galchenyuk conceded as much, saying “this is a big year for us … expectations are always high in this city.”

It’s a truism that only one team per season can spend a truly blissful summer, but a traumatic ending like that produced by the Canadiens last season – in which they went from having the league’s best record to having one of the very worst – only deepens the off-season gloom.

But hey, at least the Habs enter a new season saddled with the lofty hopes of an obsessive, anxious and easily annoyed fan base, some segments of which are still processing the departure of favourite son P.K. Subban.

“It was obviously a disappointing year, so that’s frustrating, it keeps you up at night. Then, when you make all these big changes in the summer, it’s stressful,” said Habs president and majority owner Geoff Molson. “[GM] Marc [Bergevin] has made some major changes on this team, for the better in our opinion, although I’m sure there are others with different opinions. It’s been a rock-and-roll summer, stressful at times, and now here we are starting a new season. I can’t wait to get started.”

Owners and managers have the luxury of contemplating the bigger picture. Players, however, are programmed with optimism as their default outlook – expecting you’ll fail is usually a self-fulfilling prophecy on the rink.

The Canadiens’ players and management, minus a few key pieces who are otherwise occupied by the World Cup of Hockey, gathered for the club’s annual charity golf tournament on Tuesday, which marks the unofficial kickoff to the season (main training camp starts Friday).

The day was sunny, as were temperaments.

“We are all optimists, for sure … from about July 1 onward, it’s always an exciting time to see who’s going to be added, who’s coming in. I think it’s in our nature that as, summer dwindles down, we all start to feel a little more excited,” said Petry.

Players love this time of year because it crackles with possibilities; standings-enforced fatalism won’t set in until after U.S. Thanksgiving. The vibe is even infectious enough to grab hold of head coach Michel Therrien, who as usual is in the doubters’ crosshairs this season.

A relaxed Therrien batted away a raft of questions over comments he is alleged to have made at a social event this summer – according to reports he told a table of people that Max Pacioretty is the worst captain in Canadiens history – flatly denying he ever maligned his star forward.

“First of all, I never made that remark,” he said. “Secondly, I don’t dwell on hearsay.”

Therrien praised Bergevin’s off-season acquisitions – defenceman Shea Weber, who was swapped for Subban, as well as forwards and probable linemates Alexander Radulov and Andrew Shaw – and with good reason: The hard-nosed Weber and Shaw are exactly his kind of players.

“We’re optimistic, but the other 29 teams are also at this time of the year,” he said.

Therrien was also at pains to praise the arrival of former Hab Kirk Muller – he called him a “co-coach” – efficiently putting the lie to any contention the appearance of a credible, ready-made successor presents any kind of a problem.

More than anything, however, Therrien is thrilled that goalie Carey Price, lost to injury for all but two months of last season, is playing up to typically brilliant form for Team Canada.

“The fact Carey is healthy is a huge plus for us,” Therrien said.

Yes, well, the all-world netminder is the man who single-handedly amended the team’s “No Excuses” dressing-room wall mantra to “Okay, maybe one excuse.”

The Habs’ off-season focus on intangibles such as leadership and character – themes evoked at length by Therrien and his players – has done little to reassure the advanced-stats crowd, but the fact is a healthy Price papers over a great many flaws.

His teammates are also watching Team Canada and the play of Price closely.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t [relieved],” smiled Petry, who is coming off injury troubles of his own.

Price has said the exertions of the World Cup will be a key component of his full recovery from knee problems and an eventual return to elite form. If he’s correct, he may have a disproportionate impact on his club’s emotional and psychological well-being this season.

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