If the playoffs started today, the Montreal Canadiens would be IN.
(Habs-Leafs as a matter of fact)
Weeks removed from entertaining the thought of trading Carey Price, the Canadiens find themselves back in a playoff spot, and reports from around the city suggests ‘the fire is weakening’……..and shockingly, a main contributor to the betterment of Le Club‘s fortunes is none other than Carey Price. That’s right, the city of Montreal and Carey Price are once again ‘back together’. Let this also be a cautionary tale to anyone who openly calls for ‘tanking’ or ‘the need to blow it up’ after ten ****ing games.
*Takes a swig of medicine for his own issues with ‘premature planning’
Don’t get me wrong…the likelihood of the Canadiens remaining a playoff team sans a healthy and in-form Carey Price is laughably low. The success of Charlie Lindgren on the heels of the early struggles and subsequent injury to Price was encouraging but if it fooled you into thinking Price was part of the problem, and not the ‘solution’, simply try again (and I’ll be here to dust you off and pick you up after each and every failed attempt).
But what is often lost in the brilliance of Carey Price, and the attention he garners with any mention of Montreal, are the contributions made by others.
In an off-season that saw the arrival of Jonathan Drouin, who for his part has shown glimpses of why so many believe him to be amongst the game’s most skilled with the puck on his stick — despite playing *out of position*, because shopping for first-line centres is supposedly similar to looking for a Turbo Man doll on Christmas Eve. Just can’t find them according to MB (also, the ‘sketchy Santa doll’ is much akin to giving your kid Phil Danault when they asked for John Tavares. And if you don’t get that reference, put ‘Jingle all the Way’ on your Holiday Season Watchlist.
(Getting back on track now…)
Fake super hero jokes aside, Brendan Gallagher, the Habs’ version of a super villain, has also been Montreal’s best forward to this point in the season. Furthermore, he’s been playing some of the best hockey of his career thus far, and unlike Price, has not suffered any dips along the way. Finally healthy and with two working hands (thank the ongoing absence of Shea Weber perhaps?), Gallagher has produced 19 points (13G/6A) through 27 contests. With 13 goals, he’s passed his total from last season (10 in 64GP) and is more than half-way to his career high, set back in ’14-’15.
Another angle to look at Gallagher’s renewed success amongst the juggling landscape that is the Canadiens’ forward depth chart has to do with his simple, but effective style of play. His work ethic allows him to fend off bigger bodies with his elusiveness. When he or his team possesses the puck, Gallagher has one thing on his mind: Get to the front of the net. Never been entirely deserving of the sniper label, but his ’17-’18 shooting percentage is 14.9, up 5.2% from his career number, which suggests, perhaps along with an improved shot, Gallagher is getting to the front of the net and creating chances off scrambles (I’d say 6 of his 13 goals have been scored in and around the net or via tips/deflections). Coach’s love players that get to the so-called dirty areas (the front of the net for example). Brendan Gallagher doesn’t just get there,,, he lives there.
Drawing routine comparisons to fellow sh*thead Brad Marchand, Gallagher hasn’t yet displayed the consistent scoring touch of the Bruins’ forward. Consider the fact Marchand has scored 20+ goals four times, with Gallagher only having done it once and it’s clear he [Gallagher] has some catching up to do to fully legitimize the comparison. In other areas, however, the two are very similar players. Both players are at their respective best when antagonizing the opposition. A point-a-game player dating back to last season, Marchand represents a souped up version of Gallagher, who over the same time-span (injuries not withstanding) has played at a .57 points-per-game level. Playing the best hockey of his career and seemingly still miles behind the optimal comparative, Gallagher is trending very much in the right direction and that alone is cause for celebration in Montreal. On his current pace, Gallagher is projected to finish with 38 goals, and 56 points in total, a result surely to appease 99.9% of the fan base — there’s always that 0.1%. Quick to credit his line-mates for his successes, Gallagher hopes to keep up this career-best pace and in doing so, help mitigate the scoring woes that have plagued the Canadiens for most of the season.
“There’s a lot of things, there’s health, stability in the lines. Last year I was kind of all over the place, wasn’t really sure who I was playing with. This year I’ve been with Pleky for the most part and we’ve been able to talk things out and build chemistry.”
While I commend Gallagher’s selflessness, the presence of a more offensively gifted centre down the middle would no doubt have a positive impact on his offensive output. Thomas Plekanec, for everything he is and has been, is no longer a top-six forward in the NHL despite his paycheque suggesting otherwise. Taking nothing away from him, but time and age have robbed the veteran Czech of his offensive abilities which were ‘scarcely minimal’ to begin with.
So long as Gallagher continues to play the style of hockey that’s made him successful through most of his hockey career (and avoids injury along the way), perhaps we are seeing the version of Gallagher we’ve been waiting for all along. One more closely resembling possibly the most hated player in the NHL…
On a cap friendly deal that runs through ’20-21, and carries an AAV of $3.75 million (peanuts compared to Marchand’s deal, which runs through ’24-25 and carries a $6.125 AAV), ensuring Gallagher continues his run of success, in both the short and long terms, is critical if the Canadiens are to continue as perennial post-season participants. It also never hurts a player’s trade value to actually play well, and Gallagher could be a potential trade chip down the road. Remember, they still need a centre and multiple ‘puck-moving defensemen’.
…now if only he could play alongside Patrice Bergeron every shift.