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Strong start

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL - It was a game that was always going to be won by a team wearing the CH on their chests, but Monday night at the Bell Centre, it was a packed house full of new fans for rising young star Nikita Scherbak to win over, starting with his head coach.


“I liked what I saw from Scherbak tonight,” said Michel Therrien of his team’s first-round pick from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. “He showed a lot of enthusiasm, he was explosive, and his line did a lot of things right.”

Paired with third-year Hab Alex Galchenyuk – who has been playing his natural position of center since the start of this year’s training camp – Scherbak’s other newest linemate looks to be finding comfort in his 18-year-old Russian winger’s familiar style of play.

“[Galchenyuk and Scherbak] are very similar both on and off the ice, so you get the two confused sometimes,” admitted Brendan Gallagher, who has been playing opposite Scherbak, to Galchenyuk’s right.

“I remember when Chucky was stepping in here for the first time he looked exactly how Nikita does now so it’s fun to watch. They play very similar styles and they like to do the same things, so I wasn’t surprised that the two of them clicked. It makes playing with them easy because I just need to keep doing the same things. It was nice for Chucky to put one in on a great pass from Scherbak, and if we do play together again, hopefully we continue to get better.”

It’s no wonder, then, that Therrien hinted about a possible reunion for the young trio on Tuesday when the Bruins visit the Bell Centre for the Habs’ first real preseason contest.

“The Galchenyuk line was fun to watch. Galchenyuk played his best scrimmage of camp. He controlled the puck well in the neutral zone and he made some nice plays. Scherbak skated really well. He’s a good player and he was flying on the ice. I like the way he skates. He’s powerful with his skating, he has great ability, and he’s poised with the puck. Those three kids together, I really liked what I saw out there.”

The Habs’ bench boss wasn’t the only one.

“It was crazy, I loved it,” marvelled Scherbak, referring to the Habs faithful who filled the arena for the team’s annual intrasquad scrimmage. “It’s an amazing town with crazy fans.

“Alex helped me a lot on the bench and he supported me a lot,” continued the explosive young winger, who won Player of the Game honors just a few hours after being traded from the CHL’s Saskatoon Blades  to the Everett Silvertips earlier in the day. “It was a good feeling after we scored the goal. I had fun tonight.”

He may have been playing in front of the largest crowd of his young career, but if the bigger stage gave the fresh-faced forward any first-night jitters, he certainly had his linemates fooled.

“He wasn’t too nervous,” dished Gallagher on his teenaged teammate, who signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Habs in July. “He’s a good kid. He likes to laugh and joke around so we had fun with him. He also likes to talk, and for a guy who only started speaking English a year ago, he speaks it very well, so there were no problems communicating. He’s just a kid who wants to have fun, so it was fun for us to play with him.”

While Scherbak has been quick to learn English, has Gallagher, now outnumbered by Russian-speakers on his own line, been feeling the pressure to learn the language of his newest comrades?

“I’m not sure if I can say it on camera, since I’m not sure what it means, but I do know one word [in Russian] now,” joked the Edmonton, AB native of the unnamed term he picked up during Scherbak and Galchenyuk’s goal celebration.

He may well learn a couple more if the young line ends up sticking into the regular season.

“It was a 75% Russian goal,” laughed Galchenyuk, who scored off a slick play from the night’s first star. “Emelin passed it to Scherbak, and he got it to me, but I’m half-and-half right?”

Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com.

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