It seems almost inconceivable that the Montreal Canadiens would miss a player more than Carey Price, but it’s true. Since Brendan Gallagher went down with a hand injury, the Habs have not looked the same. The lines have been juggled constantly to find some consistency and the void Gallagher left on the top line has come nowhere close to being filled. It shows how important Gallagher has become to the Habs.
Brendan Gallagher: Montreal’s Sparkplug
Goalies Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski have done a more than adequate job in the absence of Price but they have lacked the goal support. When the team is averaging less than two goals a game, that’s a problem. It was a problem that plagued the Habs last season but were saved by the MVP heroics of Price. This year, Condon and Tokarski have their moments where they could be better, but they aren’t the reason this team can’t put pucks in the net.
The narrative around Gallagher has always been about how he defied the odds as a smaller player. He was considered a long shot to make the NHL but he made it. Not many saw him as a legitimate first line winger at this level but he is. Many questioned whether his bang and crash style would hold up long term and so far it has as the hand injury was a freak accident from blocking a shot at close range.
Gallagher is unquestionably Montreal’s sparkplug. No one on the ice gives as consistent of an effort as him and at full tilt each shift. He is always zipping up and down the ice whenever he isn’t parked in front of the net with a big smile on his face. His willingness to battle is being sorely missed on the roster as no other player on the team plays like Gallagher. A lot of Montreal’s players will go into the corners but few go to the front of the net consistently, though recent AHL call-up Daniel Carr has shown a willingness.
The loss of Gallagher has been extremely glaring, especially with Montreal’s depth on the right wing being very thin. Alexander Semin is now in the KHL after a disastrous stint with Montreal while summer acquisition Zack Kassian is in the AHL after a stint in rehab. Paul Byron is a valuable depth player but isn’t a top liner. Ditto for Dale Weise who is struggling to score. The other call-ups such as Sven Andrighetto and Charles Hudon have been good but have been scratched as of late. The team has tried every option internally to try to fix the scoring problem, but the fact is the team needs a top six winger even after Gallagher returns and they will have to look outside the organization to get it.
With 19 points in 22 games on top of being a strong possession player, Gallagher was on pace for his best offensive season yet. His six year deal at $3.75 million per year is an absolute steal. Habs legend Guy Lafleur advocated for Gallagher to earn the captaincy that eventually went to Max Pacioretty. And seeing how valuable Gallagher is, Lafleur’s statement has become a more popular refrain in recent weeks as Pacioretty has struggled to put the team on his back.
Gallagher’s return cannot be fast enough for Montreal as they struggle to score. This team needs their sparkplug back. He has become Montreal’s heart and soul, the player that makes them go. When Montreal is lacking energy, it’s Gallagher’s buzz saw style that gives the team a jump. Gallagher is the kind of player who will do anything to will his team to a win.
The desperation to score in Montreal has increased to the point where top prospect Michael McCarron was recalled from the AHL. McCarron has been very good to start the AHL season but the plan was to leave him down there for the entire year, much like the team did with Charles Hudon. However, McCarron was recalled to Montreal where he was put on the wing after playing centre all season and didn’t even have the benefit of having practiced with the team. It was clear during the Dallas game that McCarron is not NHL ready and putting him out of position just made it worse.
Believe Habs plan was for McCarron to stay in AHL whole season. He's forced them to reconsider, but also shows desperation level right now.
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) December 18, 2015
Can’t heal fast enough
As important as Gallagher is to the team, the fact that the entire team has cratered offensively is concerning. Since Gallagher went down, the team’s ability to generate offense has virtually disappeared to the point where it seems like the AHL call-ups are the only ones scoring. The team does not have the depth to make for Gallagher’s loss but the veterans have not stepped up their games in any capacity.
Gallagher doesn’t have the point production of Pacioretty, the defensive acumen of Tomas Plekanec or Galchenyuk’s flash, but he is something none of those players are. He is the hardest working forward that doesn’t stop, an inspiration to the rest of the squad. The A on his sweater shows his value as a leader on the Montreal Canadiens and sometimes I think that A should be upgraded to a C. If there is one player the rest of the Habs should look to for inspiration, it’s Gallagher.
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from Ryerson University. I am a freelance journalist and a Montreal Canadiens writer for The Hockey Writers. I previously wrote for Simcoe.com and Last Word on Sports as well as interned at TSN.