Brendan Gallagher joined the Montreal Canadiens for practice on Tuesday and though his status for Thursday’s game in Buffalo has not been announced, it was clearly a positive sign that he skated with his teammates in a regular jersey.
And the best news: he says he’s been free of concussion symptoms for about a week.
“During the bye week I was able to go home and take care of those things and then came back…there was just a certain point where everything clicked, where everything was feeling good again,” Gallagher said Tuesday. “Headaches were there a few days. Then after a couple days they would come and go. But they’ve been gone for good since early on in the bye week.”
Both he and Jonathan Drouin, who’s also working his way back from a wrist injury sustained in November, were back practising as normal on Tuesday. Drouin’s timeline always had him returning to the Montreal lineup some time around now, but there was uncertainty around Gallagher’s status.
He was first diagnosed with a concussion following a game in Carolina on New Year’s Eve, after which he was listed as out indefinitely. He missed four games, then returned Jan. 9 against Edmonton and played 17:19.
But Gallagher reported experiencing headaches (concussion-like symptoms) later that night, so the Canadiens shut him down once more. Gallagher insisted that he and the team did everything right ahead of his initial return, but that nothing really prepares a player for the physical challenges an NHL game presents.
“There’s still so much to learn about these concussions,” Gallagher said. “You just go through your normal rehab. Leading up to the first game everything was going well, no real symptoms.
“In no way do I put any blame on anyone. It’s one of those things where everyone followed the proper protocol. I went through the NHL concussion program. I did everything I needed to do. There’s just no test for a game-like atmosphere and you don’t know really what triggered it. You don’t get your heart rate up to what it’s like in a game, there’s a lot of noise, a lot of light, a lot of adrenaline going through your body and these things can trigger it. You can’t really test that until you play a game.
“Every concussion’s a little bit different. I think mine was probably pretty unique, but happy to put it behind me now.”
The biggest change you’ll immediately notice about Gallagher when he does return to game action is that he’ll be wearing a tinted visor now. It’s not that he or the team is worried about aggravating these same symptoms, or else he wouldn’t get activated in the first place, but he’s making the move to optimize his protection.
“Since my first (concussion) I kinda noticed I was sensitive to light and each concussion it’s just naturally always been there,” Gallagher continued. “That was something I told the trainer, so the tinted visor kinda takes care of that. It sounds weird, but it does make a little bit of a difference. It’s something I probably keep on for a bit.”
Whenever Gallagher — and Drouin — returns to the lineup it’ll be a much-needed boost for the snake-bitten Canadiens. Injuries have hampered them all year, but even in their most-recent eight-game losing streak, six of those losses were by a single goal. They haven’t been getting outplayed so badly you’d think they’re a bottom-rung team, but they are closer to the Ottawa Senators in standings points than they are a playoff spot.
Gallagher has back-to-back 30-goal seasons and with 15 in 41 games this year he was matching that pace before this latest concussion. Having his goal scoring back in the lineup would be a boon to the team’s fading playoff hopes.
Canadiens coach Claude Julien did not speak on Tuesday, but is expected to update the status of both Gallagher and Drouin on Wednesday.