BOSTON - With the news coming out that captain Max Pacioretty would be recovering from injury for four to six weeks, it'll be up to some of the Habs' younger veterans to step up to the plate and take the mantle in the room in his stead.
For players like Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, and Phillip Danault, the responsibility won't add much to their routine, as it's something that comes quite naturally to them already.
"Leadership isn't something you think all that much about; it's just something that happens with the way you play," Gallagher said in response to the news of Pacioretty's absence, the result of a knee injury sustained in the team's 6-3 win over the Islanders on Friday in Brooklyn. "There are areas where you have to be a little bit more vocal and speak up. For me right now, I'm not going to change a thing."
The loss just adds to the pile for a club that is already without its No. 1 goaltender, Carey Price (concussion, undetermined absence), and top defenseman, Shea Weber (foot, out for the season). And while Galchenyuk would prefer to see those three pillars of the team back alongside him on the ice, he was at least able to recognize a silver lining in the stormy clouds of injury.
"It's tough to see guys like that go down with injuries. The three of them are a big part of our team," relayed Galchenyuk. "But we have a young group, and a lot of guys stepping in. A lot of guys are getting the chance to show themselves. It's a great opportunity. At the same time, we still have a great locker room, and a lot of character guys. We're sticking together right now."
Danault, for his part, believes that the void will need to be filled by the collective, and not by any one individual player.
"Those are big losses," he said when asked about Nos. 67 and 6. "Everyone needs to rise up. Everyone needs to be able to find the little leader in him, everyone needs to play together. It'll also give a chance to some of the younger guys to show what they're made of."
The 25-year-old pivot echoed Gallagher and Galchenyuk in saying that, in terms of his leadership style, he prefers to let his actions on the ice do the talking.
"I lead more by example, but I think everyone tries to speak up a bit. In between periods, they need to tell it like it is," outlined Danault, who has 24 points (8G, 1A) in 50 games this season. "I could improve my vocal leadership, I would say, but everyone is in the same boat and needs to step up."
Of course, Pacioretty wasn't the only one who, the Habs announced, would be on the shelf for an extended period of time. The team also made it known that rookie defenseman Victor Mete would be on the sidelines with a fracture to a finger and would need six weeks to recover.
Gallagher pointed out that while Mete may still technically be in his teens, the loss of the young rearguard would also be leaving a hole in the lineup.
"He handled this year great. Whether he was playing some nights over 20 [minutes], some nights less than 10, I don't think his game changed. That's pretty impressive for a young guy, for him to be able to be consistent like he was. The skill set is there, you see how smart he is, the way he thinks the game, and the way he can skate," praised Gallagher of Mete, who averaged 15:35 of ice time in 49 games, recording seven assists and a plus-5 rating along the way. "For him, it's not easy jumping in and playing a full 82-game season, as competitive as it is in the National Hockey League coming from Junior. He did a great job of being consistent. For him to be able to do that at 19 years old is pretty exciting for this organization going forward."
And yet, with Weber, Price, Pacioretty, and Mete leaving a rather giant crater both in the room and on the ice with their respective absences, the Canadiens' youth movement has been stepping in and laying the groundwork for good things to come. After earning at least a point in seven consecutive games, it didn't take long for their impact to be felt in the standings.
"You have to continue to grow as a group. You can't just use these last - I think it's 17 - games for nothing. You use them to get better and prove to your teammates, coaches, and management where you're going to fit in to this team going forward. [It'll also] create some competition level within the group. Whenever there is internal competition, that's when you get your best as a team," concluded Gallagher. "That's what's been happening as of late, and as a result, you've seen us playing good hockey."