After sustaining hand injuries in two consecutive years, it was wondered if Brendan Gallagher could ever regain the level of play he once provided the Montreal Canadiens. Early in the 2017-18 season, the 25-year old forward is picking up right where he left off before his string of misfortunes.
In 30 games this season, Gallagher leads the Canadiens in goals (13) and points (19). 13 of his points have come at even strength while he holds a 14.4 shooting percentage. Gallagher is second behind only Max Pacioretty on the Canadiens in shots on goal with 95, averaging out to 3.1 per game. He is also first on the team in Corsi-For percentage at even strength (CF %) for skaters playing in 20 or more games, at 53.2 percent.
Last season, in 64 appearances, Gallagher managed to score only 10 goals while fighting through hand and lower-body injuries. This season, skating at 100 percent, Gallagher has already surpassed his goal total from last season and is only 10 points away from equaling last season’s total. All things considered, Gallagher has played a crucial role in Montreal’s success of late, and, without him, things could be much different.
Gallagher’s first injury came against the New York Islanders on Nov. 22, 2015, when he blocked a slap shot from Johnny Boychuk, leaving him with two broken fingers on his left hand. The injury cost him 17 games. One season later, on Jan. 4, 2017, against the Dallas Stars, Gallagher once again blocked a shot, this time from teammate Shea Weber in front of the Stars net. The puck hit him in the same hand he had broken just over a year prior, forcing him out of the lineup for 18 games. In his absence during these two injuries, the Canadiens went 14-19-2.
“He’s been huge [for us],” said teammate Andrew Shaw to Sportsnet’s Eric Engels. “He’s scoring big goals, he’s battling, he’s going to the net, he’s going to those dirty areas and winning those pucks. We’re loving it from him right now, and you know he’s going to keep doing it for us.”
One of the Grittiest Players in the NHL
Like Shaw, Gallagher is a hard-nosed player you hate to play against but would love to play alongside. He will never hesitate to engage in puck battles along the boards or in the corners and is a fixture in the opposing team’s goal crease. As a result, Gallagher often finds himself in the middle of a scrum after the whistle. Whether he’s in a headlock or at the bottom of a three-man pile, his signature smile rarely leaves his face, leaving opponents fuming. Gallagher is so effective at getting players off their game, he’s even managed to get under the skin of one of the league’s most disliked players.
“The biggest thing that bothers me about [Gallagher] is off faceoffs. He’s always spearing or slashing,” said Boston Bruins’ forward Brad Marchand in an interview with TSN’s Darren Dreger in 2016. “It bothers me a lot.”
“He seems to enjoy it a little too much. It definitely hits a nerve.”
Brendan Gallagher – Making Teammates Better
As Gallagher enjoys a rejuvenation in his play, linemate Tomas Plekanec is also reaping the benefits of Gallagher’s success. So far this season playing mostly with Gallagher, Plekanec’s offensive output has increased, scoring 0.45 points per game this season compared to 0.36 last season. With Gallagher on his right-wing, Plekanec is evidently a more productive player. His Corsi-For percentage at even strength (CF %) playing with Gallagher this season is 53.35 percent, compared to 47.68 percent when separated.
“I’ve played a lot with [Plekanec],” said Gallagher to Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette. “I think we have a lot of chemistry.”
As of this writing, Montreal occupies third place in the Atlantic Division with 30 points, tied with Boston with four extra games played. While they’ve managed to make up some of the ground lost early in the season following a 1-6-1 start, the Canadiens will need to accumulate as many points as possible to secure a spot in the playoffs. 95 points were needed to clinch a postseason berth last season in the Eastern Conference, meaning Montreal will need 64 points in the remaining 52 games to reach that mark. That’s no small task, and Brendan Gallagher will be one player counted on heavily.
“We’re pretty comfortable with our game right now and it’s important that it continues,” said Gallagher. “[We need] to stay on each other and make sure we’re still working hard in practices so our game doesn’t slip and get back to where it was at the start of the year.”
I cover the Montreal Canadiens and Laval Rocket for The Hockey Writers. I am currently a student at the University of Concordia studying journalism in the hopes of one day becoming a full-time sports reporter. I have previously covered the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League for Pro Football Spot.