Stu Cowan: Brendan Gallagher adjusting to new role with Canadiens

Veteran forward can relate to what young teammate Kirby Dach is going through now after suffering “significant” knee injury.

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Brendan Gallagher can certainly relate to what Canadiens teammate Kirby Dach is going through now.

The Canadiens announced Monday that Dach has “a significant” lower-body injury that’s not short-term and that they were still in the process of diagnosing just how significant it is.

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Sportsnet’s Eric Engels reported it could be torn ACL and MCL ligaments in Dach’s right knee. Dach was injured while being checked into the boards by Chicago defenceman Jarred Tinordi — the Canadiens’ first-round pick (22nd overall) at the 2010 NHL Draft — during the first period of Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Blackhawks at the Bell Centre. If Dach did indeed tear both ligaments, his season could be over after only two games.

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“There’s nothing there,” Gallagher said when asked about the legality of Tinordi’s hit. “It’s really unfortunate. It’s just kind of hockey.”

The AHL’s Laval Rocket also announced Monday that forward Emil Heineman, one of the Canadiens’ top prospects, is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury.

Gallagher missed 104 games over the previous four seasons because of injuries. Last season, he missed 45 games after breaking his ankle twice as the Canadiens set an NHL record with 751 man-games lost to injury. Now they lose the 22-year-old Dach — one of the key players in their rebuilding process.

After being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks, Dach set career highs last season in goals, assists and points with 14-24-38 totals in 58 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

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Gallagher had a chance to speak with Dach before Monday’s practice.

“He was in here,” Gallagher said. “Like anyone, he was disappointed. But he’s here, he’s part of the team and he’s doing his thing. He’ll be here every day.”

Gallagher added that it will be important for Dach to stay around the team as much as possible.

“You start to feel isolated,” Gallagher said about recovering from a long-term injury. “The good thing is we have a lot of home games. He’ll be around. It’s just a tough thing to go through when you feel like you’re by yourself. Just stay involved as much as you can and we’ll make sure that we’ll help him with that.”

At age 31, Gallagher is trying to get his career back on track after a long list of injuries. He was on pace for a third straight 30-goal season in 2019-20 with 15 goals in 40 games before suffering a concussion, ending his streak of 229 consecutive games played.

Gallagher had no points in the first two games this season and his 10:10 of ice time against the Blackhawks Saturday was the second-lowest on the team after Dach, who played 4:40 before getting hurt.

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“We took (seven minor penalties) and I don’t kill penalties,” Gallagher said. “Just one of those games. Hopefully next game there’s a little bit more flow and you feel a little bit more involved.”

Gallagher said he’s still adjusting to a different role on the team after being a first-line winger for several seasons with Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar as linemates. Gallagher said he has had “really good dialogue” with head coach Martin St. Louis about where he fits on the team.

“The more internal competition you have the better team you’re going to have in the end,” Gallagher said. “You always want to find a line that sticks, but you also want to be a guy that they can plug and put in different situations.”

If Gallagher can’t regain some of his previous form and score at least 20 goals, his contract will weigh heavily on the salary cap and is something Canadiens fans will continually focus on. Gallagher has scored 29 goals combined over the previous three seasons while dealing with injuries.

“I’ve really never been one to play with a chip on my shoulder,” Gallagher said when asked if he feels like he has something to prove this season. “It’s not who I am. I feel internally I’ve always had a lot of belief in myself and the support system I have back home. I’m engaged, so with (fiancée) Emma and my family back home there’s enough people that supported you and believed in you along the way. I just feel confident that if I’m able to stay healthy — I feel great — throughout the course of the season everything will go back to what I’m used to doing in this league.

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“I’m comfortable where I am, comfortable with the situation,” he added. “But I’ve never gone out with a real chip on my shoulder or anything like that. I play the game for the same reasons: I love hockey and I love playing for my teammates and that’s just kind of the way I go about it.”

Part of Gallagher’s focus now will be on helping Dach.

“It’s frustrating,” he said about Dach’s injury. “I’ve been through that enough in my career that it’s never easy. So you try to help him out, just make him feel a part of the team as much as you can.”

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