Breaking down Brendan Gallagher’s offensive resurgence
How has the fiesty forward become one of the league’s top goal-scorers?
To say that Brendan Gallagher has been the best player on the Montreal Canadiens this season would be an understatement.
In only 28 games this season, Gallagher leads the team in goals and points, having scored 13 goals and six assists so far, and has been consistent all year long. He hasn’t gone more than four games without a goal this season, and currently has five points in his last four games.
So far, health and consistency seem to be the biggest reasons as to why Gallagher has been successful this season, as he stated following a game against the Blue Jackets:
“There’s a lot of things, there’s health, stability on the line. Last year I was kind of all over the place, wasn’t really sure who I was playing with. This year I’ve been with Pleky for the most part of it, we’ve been able to talk things out and build chemistry.”
The past two seasons, he’s missed 47 games due to two distinct hand injuries, the most recent of which coming from the infamous Shea Weber slapshot that broke his hand last season.
This year, he’s played in every game so far, and is currently on pace to score 36 goals and 56 points, which would break his career highs.
He has played the majority of his time this season alongside the veteran Tomas Plekanec and rookie Charles Hudon. They’ve spent roughly 144 minutes on a line together, or 33.5% of the season thus far.
To further analyze his offensive performance, let’s take a look at how exactly he’s scored all of his goals this season.
Out of Gallagher’s 13 goals:
- Two goals were scored on rebounds
- Two goals were scored around the goal
- Two goals were scored via deflection
- Three goals were scored on a skilled play while on the rush
- Four goals were scored on a shot from a relatively static position/
Taking a look at how Gallagher has scored this season, he hasn’t deviated from his usual style of crashing the net and being a presence in front of opposing goaltenders. Two of his goals this season have come from rebounds; both on the man advantage.
On this play, Gallagher is down low in the zone, as he usually is on the power play. When he sees Joe Morrow get the puck, he slides out in order to give a passing option for the defender. Once the puck is passed back to Hudon, he knows immediately to slide back into the blue paint. Benefitting from John Klingberg and Esa Lindell’s puck-watching, he sneaks in and pokes the rebound past Ben Bishop, who struggled to handle the original shot.
Against the Anaheim Ducks, Gallagher starts the rush on the power play and offloads the puck as soon as he gets into the zone. In typical fashion, he makes a beeline to the net, and makes every effort possible to cause havoc in the blue paint.
The most underrated part of this play is perhaps the push he gives Brandon Montour before the shot is taken. He makes space for himself, and is in perfect position to deflect the puck. He doesn’t give up following the deflection, quickly batting in the loose puck as soon as he locates it.
Around the goal
Against the Vegas Golden Knights, Gallagher acknowledges that Plekanec is going to win the race to the puck. He lets up, and allows the Vegas defender to chase the puck into the corner. Again, he’s quick to notice the open space beside Maxime Lagace, and the two unaware defenders. From there, he simply waits until Plekanec makes the cross-crease pass and tucks it in.
In the short-handed goal above, Paul Byron’s forechecking leads to Dmitry Orlov forcing a play up the boards, which Gallagher quickly pounces on. With no other option, he throws the puck on net, which misses and deflects off the boards to Byron. Gallagher does what he does best, moving toward the net with his stick on the ice, giving Byron a clear target for a pass, resulting in the short-handed marker.
On the first of his two tip-in goals this season, Gallagher heads to the net (there’s a patern forming) seeing that Max Pacioretty and Jakub Jerabek have handled the zone entry. This may have some luck involved, as he was facing the net perhaps preparing for a rebound. Pacioretty’s shot deflects off his stick, rewarding Gally with a goal.
In the same game against Detroit, Gallagher gains another goal via a deflection. After failing to put the puck on goal, he remains in the slot area open for a pass from the right halfwall. With some exceptional hand-eye coordination, he effortlessly deflects Jeff Petry’s shot past Jimmy Howard.
Skilled plays/On the rush
The previous goals are via Gallagher’s bread-and-butter style of hovering around the net, and that has been effective this season, as it had been in the past. However, playing alongside a defensive-minded player such as Plekanec has allowed Gallagher to utilize both his shot and skating more effectively, and it seems to be paying off in spades.
Hudon creates a turnover and enters the zone with possession. Gallagher clears the Wild defenders to either receive a pass or pounce on a rebound. In tight, he has the hockey sense to pull the puck to his backhand as Dubnyk slides to his left, leaving an open net.
On a play almost identical to the one against the Wild, Gallagher steps off the bench and recognizes Hudon looking for a pass as he enters the offensive zone. Taking advantage of the Arizona line change, he skates away from the backcheck, scoops up the pass from Hudon, and once again,pulls the puck to his backhand on the right, as Antti Raanta slides to the left.
Both of these plays show a) his ability to find holes in the defence during the rush, and b) his decision-making in tight. Both of these goals also show his ability to read the play off the rush effectively, as he’s had various opportunities like these throughout the year.
The above scoring play starts in the defensive zone, with Gallagher blocking Erik Karlsson’s initial attempt to put the puck deep. He then spins off Karlsson and feeds it to Phillip Danault as he starts to accelerate down the middle of the ice. Danault banks it back up to number 11, who fights off Mark Stone’s backcheck, recognizing it’s a forward and not a defender harassing him. He protects the puck, beats Stone wide, then outwaits Craig Anderson for the highlight-reel goal.
This is probably the goal that shows Gallagher’s tenacity the most, as he fights off both Karlsson and Stone in different situations. His puck protection ability is highlighted here as well. Even with everything going on, he still has the patience to outwait the goaltender to tuck the puck into a small space.
Finally, I’ve noticed Gallagher is more open to using his shot this season. This has always been an underrated part of his game, but this year four out of his 13 goals have been scored simply by firing the puck on target.
This is probably another lucky goal, however, putting the puck on the net is never a bad play. Awareness is the key here, and his patience after the draw is rewarded as he takes the loose puck and surprises Dubnyk with the shot.
Against the Blue Jackets, he uses his speed and skating to keep Sergei Bobrovsky moving, as well as protecting the puck from Seth Jones. As he notices the goalie continuously shifting, he fires a hard shot low, and beats Bobrovsky five-hole. The shot is deceptive as he shoots it mid-stride, arriving quickly and unexpectedly at the goal.
It’s perhaps the most impressive goal by him this season, as there are multiple elements involved. Byron and Plekanec both pressure the puck-carrier in the middle of the offensive zone, knocking the puck off his stick. Aaron Ekblad makes a last-ditch effort to break up the chance, sliding in front of the puck. Gallagher takes the extra second to sidestep the sprawling Florida defender, and rips the puck top shelf as he falls to the ice.
Finally, his 100th NHL goal on Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings. was alsothe result of a shot, from the high slot. In a game where Montreal already led the Wings 6-0, the Gallagher-Plekanec-Hudon line combined to add insult to injury.
Hudon jumps on a failed one-timer by Mike Green and slides the puck to Plekanec, who easily slides it up to Gallagher as he heads for the offensive zone. On the breakaway, Gallagher realizes that Howard is moving deeper into his net, and fires a perfect shot top shelf over his glove.
It was a perfect way to score his 100th career goal,even though it wasn’t what could be classified as a typical Gallagher goal.
Brendan Gallagher has been the main driver of offence so far this year for the Canadiens, and has become a more dynamic forward in terms of how he’s generating offence. Aside from being known as the sparkplug on the team, he’s now someone other teams must plan against, as he’s been a factor in almost every game the Canadiens have won.
If he stays healthy, we could see a career year from him, and that’s something the Canadiens should reap the benefits from.