The newly-formed top line of Max Pacioretty – Alex Galchenyuk – Brendan
Gallagher played well in their first game together against Vancouver and had an
even better game against Carolina one week later. But should their early
success as a trio mean that Galchenyuk should stay at centre full time?
Predictably, many are using this as an
argument for keeping Galchenyuk him there while adding to the
never-ending list of gripes against head coach Michel Therrien for waiting this
long to put him there. With regards to Therrien, he seems to be at the point where he can do no
right in the eyes of some (he either makes the obvious decision or the wrong one
in the eyes of many so that they don’t have to give him credit for the good
ones) so I’m going to focus on why the first thought is way too premature and
likely wishful thinking.
First off, making any sort of long-term proclamations based on a one-week
sample size (including a game against a team finishing a seven game road trip
and playing their third game in four nights and another against the worst team
in the league) is never smart. If you think a couple of good games is enough
to say Galchenyuk should stay at centre for good, why don’t the single games this
year and last where he struggled mightily at centre count? How about the
follow-up effort after the new top line was put together where they struggled
against Los Angeles? Just as you can’t conclude anything from those
contests, you can’t cherry pick and declare he’s ready based on a couple of good
games, no matter how good they may have been.
There’s also the fact that this line has been heavily shielded against having
to play defence; they’ve taken two defensive zone draws in total in the three
games they’ve been together heading into Thursday’s game against Anaheim.
It’s not sustainable to have a #1 unit that’s more or less exempted from having
to start a shift in their own end. Short-term that can work but long-term
(especially on the road where Montreal will be a lot in the coming weeks),
they’re not going to get away with that. Galchenyuk has made strides
defensively this year but clearly the coaching staff doesn’t completely trust
him yet. If they did, this move would have been made sooner. As a
result, Therrien will be more willing to break that line up and put Galchenyuk
back on the wing than a lot of fans would care to admit. Heck, with Lars
Eller soon to return, that may very well happen in the near future.
It’s not all doom-and-gloom, however. If Galchenyuk gets moved back to
the wing in the coming weeks, it’s nothing to be too upset about. In fact,
it will mirror much of his development so far. When he first started, he saw
limited minutes regularly but got the odd promotion to the 2nd line here and
there. Last year, his ice time went up and he saw a bit of time on the top unit
and powerplay. This season, that trend continues. With him at C, he got the odd
chance last year and will get a longer but likely not permanent look this time. The next step logically
would be another stint late in the year and then likely a full-time deployment
next season if they follow the same path as they did with his ice time. The
slow-but-steady development path seems to be working well so I’m inclined to
believe that the wait for Galchenyuk to play his natural position will be worth
it…even if it takes a little longer yet.