Playing against an Arizona Coyotes squad travelling back home from a road trip, it was imperative for the Montreal Canadiens to get off to a quick start in Glendale against a likely fatigued team. They did just that, and it took all of 22 seconds for them to find the board.
And in his 500th NHL game, it came courtesy of none other than Brendan Gallagher.
It was the quintessential Gallagher goal — two whacks at the puck from close enough to spit on the net camera — giving his team an early lead that would not be relinquished. He set the tone, and he could have had even more on the night if some bounces on the questionable Arizona ice went his way.
His on-ice corsi at even-strength was a sparkling 61.76% for the night. He’s now tied for the team lead with six goals on the year — all of them coming at even-strength — and actually has an expected goals-for of 8.47, so if anything he should start scoring more if he keeps up his current play.
And it must be mentioned that he does this while playing to the right of Phillip Danault and has started just 41.54% of his even-strength shifts in the offensive zone this year. He’s playing difficult minutes, and he’s eating them like cake.
Of course, playing with a remarkable defensive forward like Danault doesn’t hurt, but Gallagher and Tomas Tatar round out a solid defensive trio that not only shuts down the opposition, but does damage at the other end.
The chief scoring threat among them is of course Gallagher. Natural Stat Trick has him with 45 individual scoring chances this year at five-on-five. The only player with more is Alex Ovechkin. Again, if Gallagher keeps playing like this, his production could get even better.
And this isn’t a blip on the radar; he has been producing goals at a very high rate for a few years now at five-on-five...
Top 10 goals per 60 (5-on-5, since 2017-18)— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) October 30, 2019
Very tight race between Gallagher and Ovechkin. pic.twitter.com/SosIkKN86b
I won’t sit here and argue that Gallagher is the same as Ovechkin, or that he’s a better player than John Tavares. But when you look at the company he keeps in terms of production at even strength, you can only come to one conclusion.
Brendan Gallagher isn’t just good, he is an elite NHL forward.
And everything he does must be evaluated within the context of his $3.75 million AAV. That is absurd value, and Marc Bergevin could manage in the NHL for another 30 years without inking a better deal. It is arguably a top-five contract in the league right now that isn’t of the entry-level variety.
He’s on pace for his first ever 40-goal season, and while that pace will be tough to keep, it has been impossible to put a ceiling on the former fifth-round pick throughout his career. To completely discount that possibility now would be foolish considering how he’s defied expectations at every turn since he broke into the league.
He might not have the flash of other elite players, but it’s high time that he starts being mentioned in the same breath as them.