Montreal Canadiens: Alex Galchenyuk’s slow season start

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 10: Alex Galchenyuk
MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 10: Alex Galchenyuk /

Alex Galchenyuk had a slow start to the 2017/18 Montreal Canadiens season. What may have caused that, and how will he move forward?

Coming into the 2017/18 season, nobody could say what role Alex Galchenyuk would play, or even how he would perform for the Montreal Canadiens. As the season as carried on, Galchenyuk managed to settle into his top six role centered by Jonathan Drouin.

In the 2016-17 campaign, Galchenyuk was on a point per game pace before being sidelined with an injury for a significant portion of the season. Upon his return to action, he was never really given a fair shake at retaking his top center role. Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov finished the season centered by Phillip Danault, and Galchenyuk hasn’t returned to the top line since.

The start to the 2017/18 season was quite shaky. Poor passing, zone entries, and scoring opportunities led to Galchenyuk spending some time as a fourth line winger. Although it was a demotion on the surface, it was also an opportunity to face lower competition and build confidence.

It’s been a controversial move especially when you consider Pacioretty who had an equally poor start and has not seen his line placement, 5v5 minutes, or special team minutes adjusted. Is this favouritism around because of the C he wears or is it an inkling towards older players? Unfortunately, we’ll never know for sure. Luckily it appears that Galchenyuk is mature enough to handle that demotion in stride, but it is impossible to see if that helped him any more than putting him on a line with Drouin and Artturi Lehkonen earlier would have.

Galchenyuk’s Poor Play

There are a few possible reasons to be considered. Could he have been injured, or still healing lingering issues from last seasons injuries? The Montreal Canadiens arguably have the best facilities and health professionals in the league, so it is unlikely. However, fans found out that Pacioretty was secretly playing with a broken foot at the beginning of last year explaining his poor play. It also came out that Lehkonen has been doing the same thing since the start of this season. Could that make this more plausible?

Has Galchenyuk been affected by management’s lack of faith in his capabilities? Having his coach and general manager openly say he isn’t playing well and isn’t good enough to play center won’t have a positive effect on his morale. Confidence plays a huge part in an athlete’s performance so Julien and Bergevin may want to ease up next time.

What about the loss of all other Russians on the team and the mental impact that entails? Radulov, Andrei Markov, Nikita Nesterov, and Alexei Emelin went elsewhere in the off-season, all of which were friends of Galchenyuk. It’s important to note that locker room chemistry and interactions are a well known contributing factor in performance and morale (both of the team and individual players). The Canadiens locker room is very healthy though, and Galchenyuk still has Andrew Shaw and Brendan Gallagher with him who offer support and friendship.

Related Story: Shaw and Gallagher's Role as of Late

Finally, we come back to earth and say, “Maybe it was just an off start.” Sometimes players have streaks of bad play. Nobody is immune to it, and for Galchenyuk, it happened to occur at the beginning of the season. A simple cold stretch is the easiest explanation.

What Now?

As of now, Galchenyuk has improved drastically in every aspect of his play. The 23-year-old is showing shades of returning to the player all Montreal Canadiens fans know he can be (a 30 goal scorer). His passing and puck handling have improved, and being on a line with skilled players have helped immensely.

Galchenyuk is developing some great chemistry with both Drouin and Lehkonen, so hopefully, Lehkonen can make a swift return. He’s dangerous whenever he finds himself in a scoring position, and that is a critical part of his game.

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The goals will come, so now there only remains criticisms of the coaching staff in regards to Galchenyuk’s play. Why was Julien so afraid of starting Drouin and Galchenyuk in overtime? That potentially cost Montreal the game against Columbus.

Why does Julien continue to play Pacioretty on the right side of the first power play unit? The 2013 1st round pick has an excellent one-timer, and the Arizona game showcased how great it is when a chance finally arose.

How did Julien figure that assigning Torrey Mitchell as a top six center was better than moving Galchenyuk to center? The coaching staff could surely see if Galchenyuk is capable of centering a top line again if they give him the chance.

These are all questions that Habs fans and media need to be asking the organization. After Galchenyuk’s turnaround, the focus needs to move away from him and onto the management and coaching. What did the staff do wrong or right, and how can they improve for the future?

Next: Changing the Power-Play

Why do you think Galchenyuk had a slow start? Is management doing enough for him? Let us know your thoughts down below.