Brendan Gallagher wasn’t surprised to see Tomas Plekanec racing down the ice to negate an icing call in the first period of the Canadiens’ 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights Tuesday night.
And he was only a bit amazed when Plekanec threaded a pass through two defenders to find Gallagher alone in front of the net.
“People don’t realize how fast Pleky is,” said Gallagher, who buried the pass for his team-leading seventh goal of the season. “When we do our testing at the beginning of the season, he’s always in the top four or five. And he’s such a smart player. He read that play so well and got the jump on the defence. Then he hesitated before he found me in front with a backhand saucer pass.
“When you get a pass like that, you know you have to score,” Gallagher said.
Plekanec and Gallagher are both coming off disappointing seasons, but they are playing key roles on a team that has rebounded from a slow start to challenge for a playoff position. As they head into Thursday’s home game against the Minnesota Wild (7:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN-690 Radio), Montreal is only two points shy of a playoff spot.
Plekanec had the worst offensive numbers of his career last season, scoring 10 goals and adding 18 assists for 28 points. He did kill penalties and he managed to finish plus-10 in the plus/minus statistics despite the fact he was matched against the opposition’s top line night after night.
“I didn’t play up to the expectations and nobody had higher expectations than I did,” admitted Plekanec. “I’m hard on myself when I know that I can do better.”
Plekanec’s line continues to draw the top defensive assignments, but his ice time has dropped because he makes only occasional appearances on the power play. But coach Claude Julien has encouraged him to explore his offensive side.
“I had Tomas as a 20-year-old and I’ve told him I want him to be what I know he can be — a top two-way forward,” Julien said.
Gallagher’s problems were mostly physical. For the second time in two seasons, he had to deal with a broken hand, but he also struggled to find his confidence. He was getting chances, but his 10 goals and 19 assists represented the lowest output of his career.
The biggest difference this year is that I’m healthy,” Gallagher said. “I’ve played with Pleky a lot and I think we have some good chemistry.”
Plekanec, Gallagher and Paul Byron have been the team’s most productive line with 13 goals. Philip Danault. Andrew Shaw. and the red-hot Max Pacioretty — four goals and four assists in the last six ganes — have combined for 12 goals, while Jonathan Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk and Artturi Lehkonen have nine.
Drouin left Tuesday’s game after he suffered an upper-body injury in the second period and he didn’t practise Wednesday. Shaw also took a therapy day and Julien said it was 50-50 whether they would face the Wild.
Julien said he would go with the hot hand in goal and give Charlie Lindgren his third consecutive start. Lindgren is 2-0 since being recalled to replace the injured Carey Price and is 5-0 in the NHL over three seasons.
Price skated in full equipment before practice Wednesday, but didn’t take any shots. Julien described it as the first stage of Price’s recovery from what has been described as a minor lower body injury not related to the knee problems that sidelined him for most of the 2015-16 season.
Martin Reway, who was released from his contract with the Canadiens last month, has joined HC Slovan Bratislava for the remainder of the KHL season.