The 22-year-old centre had recorded his 23 points coming into Sunday’s 5-4 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings. He had been the driving force of the team’s offence and one its biggest threats on the power play, which ranks fourth in the NHL.
He was starting to finally establish the type of consistency the Canadiens have waited for since he was drafted third overall in 2012. Sunday’s game was the 300th of his career.
That’s why Montreal fans must have been cringing when they saw Galchenyuk hobbling back to the bench after a seemingly innocuous collision with Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar.
It was near the 10-minute mark of the third period that Galchenyuk’s right leg took the brunt of incidental contact between himself and Kopitar. He left the ice of his own volition and the Canadiens announced some five minutes later that he wouldn’t be returning.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien offered no further update on Galchenyuk after the game, other than to say more would be known Monday.
In Galchenyuk’s absence, Montreal struggled to create scoring chances in the final moments of regulation. However they did have a couple of glorious opportunities in overtime, none better than four-on-three power play shots off the sticks of Paul Byron, Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov, which failed to convert.
It took goals from Byron and Brian Flynn in the shootout to ice the game, two depth players helping Montreal pass its first test without Galchenyuk. And there will be more of those if he remains out for Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Blues.
And then there’s Pacioretty.
Montreal’s captain came into Sunday’s game with just five goals on the season, which was well off the pace that’s made him a perennial 30-goal scorer.
He had started the season on a line with Galchenyuk and Gallagher before bouncing to one with David Desharnais and Andrew Shaw. Then he moonlighted with Plekanec and Gallagher before jumping on with Shaw and Phillip Danault.
There was very little — if anything — working between Pacioretty, Plekanec, and Gallagher over the last few games before Pacioretty finally took his place with the team’s most gifted offensive players.
The assignment had clearly sparked him.
Pacioretty scored Montreal’s first two goals of Sunday’s game and recorded four shot attempts before losing Galchenyuk as his pivot. Their line with Radulov looked particularly dangerous, even if they were caught on the ice for Kings forward Drew Shore’s goal, which came in the fourth minute of the second period.
The trio of Canadiens were just starting to form chemistry as a line.
Now you have to wonder if a few games (or more) on the sidelines for Galchenyuk might deflate Pacioretty, just as he’s finally hitting his stride. You can bet the Canadiens aren’t too keen on finding out.
The team has failed to score more than two goals in all but three of its last 10 games. Losing its top line centre for any extended period of time can’t possibly help.
The waiting game has officially started, as Canadiens fans will stew impatiently for an update on Galchenyuk.