by Dustin Kagan Fleming
Brendan Gallagher has been back from injury for just 3 games and his effect is already apparent. The right winger’s absence after fracturing 2 fingers by blocking a slapshot could not have been felt more over the month of December. Last month saw what was the league’s most potent offense all but dry up. For a stretch of time without Gallagher, the Canadiens were averaging less than 2 goals per game. Until now, many didn’t quite understand the importance or utility of Gallagher, not realizing what a key component he was in the team’s early season success.
Gallagher has a reputation as a pest who gets under goalies’ skin and goes hard to the net. While that’s absolutely true, to leave it at that undersells number 11. Gallagher is a centerpiece to the offense of the team both logistically and mentally. There are very few players that work harder night in and night out than Gallagher and none of them simultaneously take as much punishment. When a teammate sees Gallagher blasting down the ice, going into the corners against the league’s goliaths to retrieve a puck, regardless of whether the game is 6-1 or the team is down by a goal, they will be inspired. This is why Gallagher was named an alternate captain to start the season; because he outworks the competition every game, never takes a night off and fights hard. Gallagher is not afraid to go right into a goalie like Tuukka Rask even if 6’9 Zdeno Chara is going to be right on top of him. If it helps the team, he does it. He’s a motivating presence for the team and consistently makes every player around him that much better. To put it simply; he is a heart and soul player and a constant spark to his team.
When it comes to his play, Gallagher is an absolute game changer. Any player can go to the net. What others in the league lack is Gallagher’s absolute willingness to do it (for fear of getting hit by shots, drawing penalties and getting hit) and his ability to do it better than just about anyone. Once he’s parked in front of the net, Gallagher is not going to move unless he decides to. He is pushed, crosschecked and tripped but always comes right back up with a smile to the enemy and a determined look in his eye. This mean that any opposing goalie is dealing with a constant and unmovable screen, making deflections incredibly hard to guard against.
Speaking of deflections, Gallagher’s stick work is precise enough for him to work magic around the net. When you watch his head and his eyes if you can see them, he tracks the puck so well and pick out just what he needs to do to redirect it. Goals like the one he had against Philadelphia earlier this week or his absolute beauty of a goal in the winter classic off of a bouncing, airborne puck, demonstrate his extreme precision and capability for split second observation and reaction. Not only is he a danger around the net, but in every zone. His speed has improved this year and as a result his ability to support the puck and find those sweet spots in the offensive zone has made him an amazing talent that’s even on team Canada’s radar for the world cup in 2016.
With Gallagher back, the Canadiens suddenly become exponentially more dangerous on the power play, in 5 on 5 scoring and can go back to rolling four effective lines like they did at the beginning of the year. The team once again has a player that inspires and sparks them every night and have already shown that they are capable of returning to the standard f play set at the beginning of the year.