RALEIGH – The oldest and youngest blue-liners on the roster will give the Habs a nice mix of youth and experience in the team’s Top 4.
One has 1,275 games of NHL experience under his belt; the other is still working on hitting the 50-game milestone in his career. When one was drafted 14th overall in 1992, the other wasn’t yet born. When one suited up for the first of his five career All-Star Games, the other was busy mastering fractions in the fourth grade.
With 18 years and over 1,200 NHL games separating them, Sergei Gonchar and Nathan Beaulieu may be from two different hockey generations, but Monday night could prove to be the beginning of an ideal partnership when they line up alongside one another against the Hurricanes.
“I don’t know if big brother is the right word, but he’s my teammate and I’ll try to help him as much as I can,” said Gonchar, who is currently in his 20th NHL season. “Obviously I have a little bit more experience than him, so I’ll try to share it with him and help him any way I can.”
|Gonchar giving Beaulieu some tips during Sunday's practice in Raleigh. |
Currently sitting fifth among all active NHLers for games played and first among all active NHL defensemen in that category, Gonchar indeed has a “little bit” more experience at his disposal than his 22-year-old D partner. While they’ve only spent 23:32 together on the Canadiens’ back end this season, Gonchar has already had enough time to pre-scout his new blue line buddy ahead of Monday’s game.
“He’s a really good skater and he has a good shot,” praised Gonchar, who has picked up 424 of his 802 career points on the power play. “When you’re younger sometimes you’re out of position every once in a while. That’s one of those things when you’re younger that everyone needs to pay attention to. Defensively, you have the chance as you get experience to improve yourself, but it’s just a matter of time. I’ll for sure try to explain things to him to make things easier if I can.”
Earning his promotion into the Top 4 with his play since being recalled from the Bulldogs on December 8, Beaulieu has been impressing his coaches with his consistency over the last six games. Michel Therrien is hoping a new assignment to Gonchar’s right will help make sure Beaulieu continues trending in the right direction in the second half of the season.
“We really like Nathan’s engagement level. He’s skating well and he’s been solid defensively since he came back from Hamilton. Playing with Gonchar will help him even more and we’re hoping he’ll keep progressing,” explained Therrien, who previously coached Gonchar while both were with the Pittsburgh Penguins. “Nathan is going to learn a lot from a guy like Gonchar with all of his experience. They communicate well. It will be a big help to him, not just now but for his future, too.”
Having had the chance to learn from veterans like Adam Oates and Peter Bondra himself early in his career, Gonchar is looking to pay it forward with his new protégé any way he can.
“We try to communicate not only on the bench but on the ice, too,” he explained. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to play with older guys and learn from them and I’m trying to do the same thing now.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
Words from the room
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