MONTREAL – When Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk both cracked the roster of the Montreal Canadiens this season, it presented the players with an intriguing problem. NHLers will never be accused of being hyper creative in nicknaming their teammates, so having two players nicknamed ‘Gally’ created a vexing dilemma.
Luckily, they were able to work it out without any gunplay or hard feelings. The way Gallagher sees it, he’s the older guy so he has proprietorial rights to the moniker.
“I’ve kind of self-proclaimed that I’m taking it already,” Gallagher said, “and (Galchenyuk) has accepted it and he’s going to take ‘Chuckie’. It was very nice of him to accept that and he didn’t put up a fight, so I appreciate that.”
After just five games, the ‘Gally and Chuckie Show’ is playing to rave reviews in Montreal, no more so than Tuesday night when Gallagher was named first star and Galchenyuk second star in the Canadiens 4-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets. With a combined age of 38, they’re one year older than veteran defenseman Francis Bouillon. Galchenyuk is so young that he’s the only player in Canadiens history since they won their first Stanley Cup in 1916 to not have been alive for a single Canadiens championship. After the game against the Jets, Galchenyuk headed to the team bus for the trip to Ottawa with nothing but a Nike knapsack on his back. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think he was a kid from McGill or Concordia going to Sociology 101.
But that youth of both players has been vital in injecting some real energy in the Canadiens lineup, to go along with a high modicum of skill.
After a game in which Gallagher scored his second goal of the year on a shot that no goalie in the league could have stopped, he was standing in the Canadiens dressing room directly under a photograph of Hall of Famer Steve Shutt. The irony was inescapable, at least to these eyes. You watch how quickly Gallagher gets the puck off his stick and it looks an awful lot like the way No. 22 used to do it.
“For me, my shooting used to be a weakness and it’s something that I’ve been working on and I need to continue to work on,” Gallagher said. “To score on these goalies, you need to be a good shooter and find a way to get your shots through. That was one of the things I learned last year playing those exhibition games. You don’t have a lot of time in this league.”
If the two players continue to develop at the same rate, there is certainly the possibility they could develop into a dangerous scoring duo, with Galchenyuk playing the part of set-up man and Gallagher taking the shots. To be sure, the two have developed a real chemistry together, dating back to when they roomed together during training camp.
“We’re obviously the youngest guys on the team and we’re good friends off the ice,” Galchenyuk said. “And that maybe translates a little to on the ice. He’s a young guy, I’m a young guy and we have fun out there. We’re excited to play every new team because we’ve never played against them.”
Five games is certainly not a huge body of work and the road will undoubtedly get much harder, but it wasn’t supposed to come this easily this quickly for them. Just last season, Galchenyuk was limited to two games in the Ontario League because of a serious knee injury and it was thought he would probably need another junior year to continue his development. Even though Gallagher had an outstanding training camp in 2011 and is a three-time 40-goal scorer in the Western League, this is only his first pro season.
The real test for these two will be when Canadiens coach Michel Therrien begins to lean on them more heavily and give them more and harder minutes. The Canadiens have done a good job of shielding their third line from opposing shutdown units and have placed both players in situations where they can succeed. In fact, they were going so well against the Jets, that Therrien moved Erik Cole onto the unit to replace Brandon Prust.
But Prust has been a valuable member of that third line, both providing some veteran experience and some protection for two players who are neither particularly big or physical – although Gallagher doesn’t seem shy about hitting above his weight class.
“I told them, ‘Play physical. Go to the net hard and hit guys,’ ” Prust said. “ ‘While I’m out there with you, I’ve got your backs. Maybe they’re playing a little bigger than usual.’ ”
Figuratively speaking, their impact on the Canadiens has been enormous. And it should keep growing.
NOTES: Prust received a penalty for embellishing that was later changed to diving after he was hit from behind into the Canadiens bench by Nik Antropov. Talk about feeling shame, even though the call was questionable to say the least. “Probably my weakest call ever. That cuts down the manhood, that one,” Prust said… The big question in Montreal is who comes out of the lineup once P.K. Subban returns? Early indications are that Tomas Kaberle will likely be the odd man out – at $4.25 million this season and next – with Bouillon taking the occasional game off.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.