Down the middle
BROSSARD – On Friday, the Habs’ head coach received news that one of his pivots will be out until the playoffs. To fill the void, he decided to promote from within.
“Our medical team decided that it would be best if Brandon Prust did not play the rest of our regular season schedule,” announced Michel Therrien after the morning practice. “The time off will give him a chance to heal and come back one hundred percent in the playoffs.”
It was bad timing for the Canadiens, who saw Prust form a reliable two-way line with Travis Moen and Dale Weise. The Habs’ de facto checking line has wrecked havoc against the opposing bottom-six, contributing three goals in the team’s 6-3 win over Colorado on Tuesday. To offset the loss, Therrien moved Lars Eller into the spot vacated by Prust and shifted young star Alex Galchenyuk from left wing to center on a line with veterans Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta.
“Galchenyuk is a good enough and smart enough player to be able to make that transition,” assured Gionta, who has been lining up alongside his compatriot since the third period of last Saturday’s comeback win against the Senators. The right-winger had a goal and an assist immediately after slotting in with Galchenyuk and sparked the Canadiens’ history-making comeback at the Bell Centre. “It’s just a matter of being able to handle the responsibility night-in, night-out.”
“I know that center is his natural position. On our team, David Desharnais is very good at distributing the puck, and I think Galchenyuk can be the same kind of player. He definitely has the hands and the vision to make it happen,” added Rene Bourque, who has missed the past five games as a healthy scratch. The Alberta native, who freely admits that this season has been a challenging one for him, is looking forward to add to his eight goals in 2013-14 by playing on a more offensive-minded line. “Of course you tend to hold the stick a bit tighter in your hands when you haven’t scored in a few games. I need to find a way to get more openings and shoot the puck more often.”
“Throughout the year, I don’t think too much about where I play. Whatever happens, happens,” offered Galchenyuk, who was Nail Yakopov’s main set up guy in the OHL’s Sarnia Sting before arriving in Montreal. “Now, I’m excited to be playing center. I like the position so I’m looking forward to playing the next game.”
This would not be the sophomore forward’s first trail at center in the NHL, and despite being one of his team’s most productive left wingers, Galchenyuk is clear about his career objectives.
“I want to establish myself as a great centerman in this league. I’m still young and have a long way to go, but I want to make a step in the right direction in tomorrow’s game,” said the 20 year-old.
“We want to try a few things out, but don’t rely one hundred percent on what you saw at practice today,” said Montreal’s head coach. With match-ups against old foes Toronto and Boston on the horizon, Michel Therrien remained coy about his line-up, but there was no doubt that his new line combinations offer intriguing possibilities. While Prust’s physical play will be missed by his teammates, the combination of Eller, Moen and Weise, plus Galchenyuk’s promotion, should strengthen a forward line-up that has been solid of late.
“Against Toronto and Boston, these are four-point games, especially with only eleven games left in the season. In the past people talk a lot about their size and strength, but it doesn’t matter if we’re on our game. We have a good chance to win if we compete, if we battle one-on-one hard, and we have the guys in this room who can do that,” concluded Gionta.