His team has played 16 games in 30 days, which is a heavy load for any NHL club.
So Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien was surely right when he suggested after a 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Sunday, that “my team is drained.”
“All the juice,” he continued in French, “has been squeezed from the lemon.”
Except there’s at least one piece of fruit in the basket that should have plenty of juice, if only because of youthful vigour: 19-year-old Alex Galchenyuk.
The third overall pick from the 2012 draft homed in on the crease with his team down 2-0 and 2:28 elapsed in the third period.
From there, he held off a check and batted home a power-play marker to give him an even 10 on the season.
He had at least three or four other platinum-plated scoring opportunities (including a close-in shot on a 35 second five-on-three power-play that was the Habs’ best chance to tie the game in the late going).
“I had a chance in the first period where I should have scored, then in the third. It’s tough, you look back after a game like this and you think you should have had three goals, but it happens, you have to focus on the next game,” he said afterward.
After 83 NHL games, the equivalent of a full season plus one game, Galchenyuk is blossoming into the kind of player that made Habs’ scouts – and fans – salivate two summers ago.
He has notched more points than top 2012 pick Nail Yakupov (his junior linemate), and in fact has out-scored all but one player drafted since 2011 – Chicago’s Brandon Saad, who is 16 months older.
With his goal against Florida Galchenyuk tied defenceman Andrei Markov for fourth in scoring among Habs players since the first game of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season (he trails only P.K. Subban, Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty over the span).
Start the clock on April 3, 2013, when the Habs lost a 5-3 game in Philly, and the numbers are even more intriguing.
In the 48 games since then Galchenyuk, who last year averaged just 12:19 minutes per game and rarely played on the power-play, has scored 34 points.
He could easily have far more.
Against Florida, he missed a straightforward chance at the side of the net in the first period, shooting a puck directly into Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen.
Then, on a Habs power play in the opening frame, he chipped the rebound of a Subban point shot agonizingly wide of Clemmensen’s left-hand post.
The American-born Galchenyuk is rightly being talked about as a candidate for the U.S. Olympic team – although it will be at least a slight surprise if he’s chosen – and although he’s averaging just over 15 minutes per game (8th among forwards), that number is sure to rise.
He’s already been moved to a line with Plekanec and captain Brian Gionta (who picked up an assist Sunday, his first point in four games).
More moves are surely forthcoming; Subban and Markov have been paired together on the team’s top blue line unit since the fourth game of the season – a victory in Edmonton – but their effectiveness has declined since they became a focal point of the opposing game plan.
Subban’s point on the Galchenyuk goal was just his second of the month, and his first power-play point in December.
Markov has just two assists to show since his three-point night in Buffalo on Nov. 27, and only one them has come in the last seven games.
Add in the fact that second pair Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin are frequently bottled up in their end and seem unable to reliably get the puck out without incident – and the less said of fifth defenceman Raphael Diaz and sixth d-men Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray, the better – and perhaps a re-shuffle of the defence is in order.
The Habs also have production issues to address on the right wing – Brendan Gallagher has one point in 10 games, Daniel Brière has one in his last eight – but the return of Rene Bourque from a shoulder injury (he’s been out since Dec. 2) at some point in the coming weeks should help.
One player who won’t be around in the near term is tough guy George Parros; Therrien confirmed he is suffering from his second concussion in two months, the result of an Eric Boulton haymaker on Long Island this past Saturday.
“He’ll be evaluated on a daily basis,” Therrien said.
The news isn’t all bad. Despite their cluttered schedule over the past month, the Habs have piled up an 11-4-1 record.
Three of the four regulation losses have come in the past week, however, and if they are to shake the lethargy, they’d best do it soon.
Half of Montreal’s wins on the season have come against the Metropolitan division, the weakest division in hockey, and they have played only eight games against division opponents (4-3-1).
It might feel like they’ve played more than their share of games over the past four weeks – and they have, as have other teams, notably Pittsburgh and Chicago – but the slogging’s only going to get tougher after the Habs’ seven-day Christmas break, which starts in five days’ time.
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