Foxborough, MA. — The Montreal Canadiens have set their roster for the 2016 Bridgestone Winter Classic, and it includes forward Brendan Gallagher.
Gallagher, who missed Montreal’s last 17 games after suffering fractures to two fingers of his left hand on Nov. 22, is returning a week ahead of schedule.
“I wouldn’t come back if I didn’t feel like I could help the team,” said Gallagher. “I don’t want to come back for selfish reasons. The doctors helped me to come back and play, and now hopefully I can contribute.”
Canadiens forward Torrey Mitchell said Gallagher’s presence back in Montreal’s dressing room already helped change some negative energy that’s been hanging over the team.
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Without Gallagher, the Canadiens have gone 5-11-1. The team’s scoring has fallen from first in the NHL to fifth overall.
“I think getting dirty goals around the net is very important, but also five-on-five,” said Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty. “We’ve been lacking that, I guess, that energy and that extra grit that it takes to score those dirty goals.
“Sometimes he doesn’t get rewarded with the goal, but he’s doing a lot of the dirty work down low that helps out his linemates and his teammates. So to get a guy like this back is very important for our team.”
The Canadiens have scored just 21 goals in their last 13 games, 11 of which have been losses. Even if Gallagher (nine goals, 10 assists in 22 games) can’t get on the board at the Classic, his presence on a line with Pacioretty and assistant captain Tomas Plekanec changes the dynamic for Montreal’s forward lines, which have been shuffled several times over the past five weeks.
“The fact that he’s there, we could go back almost with the combination that we got early in the season to where we’ve got success,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien. “That’s the big difference.”
Tomas Fleischmann, David Desharnais and Dale Weise combined for 16 points through Montreal’s 9-0-0 start the season. The three of them will be reunited for Friday’s game.
Rookie Daniel Carr will remain on a line with Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller, and Montreal’s fourth line will consist of Paul Byron, Torrey Mitchell and Boston native Brian Flynn.
“I have a lot of friends and family here,” said Flynn. “My immediate family, my wife’s immediate family, and then I’ve got a million aunts and uncles and cousins and buddies who will be in the stands. It’s fun when you get to play in front of all those people that kinda helped you get to the point that you’re at.”
If there’s a player who knows how Flynn feels, it’s Canadiens goaltender Mike Condon who grew up within 20 minutes of Gillette Stadium.
On Thursday morning, Condon was informed by Therrien that he’d be making the start in the Classic.
“Yeah, it’s an honour for me to go out there,” Condon said. “I know all my family and friends will be wearing the bleu, blanc and rouge for sure. I think the maximum number of tickets you could get was 14, so I maxed that out. Other than that, there are a lot of friends outside that are still coming. So I think they’re all cheering for the Canadiens.”
Therrien admitted there was incentive to start Condon given that he’s from the area, but that wasn’t the only reason he came to the decision.
“He did really well the last two games,” said Therrien. “Michael deserves to play.”
Condon is 10-9-3 this season.
In front of Condon, Therrien is pulling defenceman Greg Pateryn out of his lineup and inserting Alexei Emelin. Emelin missed the past two games as a healthy scratch after going minus-8 over six straight Canadiens losses.
“I want to see better decisions with the puck and better focus from him,” said Therrien.