MONTREAL - After he broke out of his slump Tuesday night, scoring a natural hat trick, Max Pacioretty had some high praise for new linemate Brendan Gallagher.
“Gally makes every line go,” Pacioretty said. “And they put him on our line to get us going and it worked.”
The two were back on the same line with David Desharnais at practice Thursday as the Canadiens prepared for tough back-to-back games Friday in Washington against the Capitals (7 p.m., TSN, RDS, TSN Radio 690) and Saturday at the Bell Centre against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m., CBC, RDS, TSN Radio 690).
“I just think he’s a player that brings a lot of energy and he’s easy for his linemates to play with because you know what he’s going to do,” said Lars Eller, who has played a lot this season and last with Gallagher.
“He’s going to go win the puck and he’s going to go in a straight line toward the net. And that way your linemates are not questioning, ‘Oh, is he going to go this way, is he going to pass there, what’s he going to do?’ ” Eller said.
Along with his passion, Gallagher has a good attitude and work ethic — “and that’s contagious,” coach Michel Therrien said when asked how much of an example Gallagher is after Thursday’s practice in Brossard.
“So, for me it’s not a coincidence that everywhere we put him he’s got success. He works so hard, so you have no choice (but) to follow that work ethic.”
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Gallagher has carved out a reputation as a gutsy forward for his willingness to park himself in front of the opposing team’s net and inevitably pay the price for it.
“If you’re going to go there you’ve got to be willing to take a shot and not retaliate,” Gallagher said. “So that’s something that I’m used to.
“I know I’m going to get hit. It might hurt, it might not, but regardless you got to go there.”
Avoiding goaltender interference penalties is something Gallagher said he has had to learn.
“I’m still not very good at it,” he said. “But it’s tough when you’re going there you have to know where the goalie is and what he’s trying to do. You’re trying to score a goal first and foremost, so you’re not thinking about it too much, but it is important to avoid the goalie and take a path that you’re not going to take a penalty and hurt the team.”
Therrien noted that Pacioretty was playing between the dots on Tuesday in the Canadiens’ 6-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild.
“He was going hard to those dirty areas to get something to happen,” Therrien said.
“This is something we’ve been talking with Max about going hard to the net,” the coach added. “Don’t play on the outside. You’re a power forward. Use your speed to create offence, and this is exactly what he did last game with the result that we saw.”
Backup goaltender Peter Budaj will get the start Friday against the Capitals. Rene Bourque, who has a lower-body injury, won’t play.
Therrien really liked how the team handled itself against the Wild and said the players have to build on that performance. The Canadiens will have their defensive work cut out for them with Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin on Friday and on Saturday with the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, who led the National Hockey League in points heading into Thursday’s games with 11-27-38 totals. Ovechkin (17-7-24) was fifth and teammate Nicklas Backstrom (5-19-24) was seventh.
“We talk about what we need to do to win games, and that’s using our speed to our advantage, getting on the forecheck, making it tough on their D-men, and if the guys are going to play a lot of minutes, making them tough minutes,” Gallagher said.
“It’s what we talk about every game. And if we can do those things usually we give ourselves a good chance to win.”
Daniel Brière was on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta again at practice and said he doesn’t mind playing on his off wing.
“Playing on the left wing I actually don’t mind it,” Brière said. “I’m on my off wing coming into the offensive zone. You have more options. You have the play in front of you.”
The Canadiens play four back-to-back Friday-Saturday games this month, including this weekend.
“The second game, I mean, it’s not a secret, it’s always tough,” Brière acknowledged.
“It’s tough to get the body going for the second game back-to-back with the travelling in between. But it is what it is,” added Brière, noting every team is in the same position with the compressed schedule because of the Sochi Olympics.
“We have to find a way,” he said. “Other teams that are going to make the playoffs are going to find a way to win those games, or at least rack up some points on those nights. We have to find a way to do the same.”
Bulldogs at Bell Centre Friday: Habs fans can catch a glimpse of the team’s farm club on Friday when the Hamilton Bulldogs play the Syracuse Crunch in American Hockey League action at the Bell Centre. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
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