VANCOUVER -- The Montreal Canadiens won't have captain Brian Gionta against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, but you won't have to look far for fellow undersized forward Brendan Gallagher.
While Gionta is back in Montreal for family reasons, Gallagher plans to be where Vancouver fans grew used to seeing him during his junior career with the nearby Giants of the Western Hockey League: in front of the net causing havoc.
Many doubted whether that in-the-crease, in-your-face style could translate to the NHL for a 5-foot-9 forward, but Gallagher is proving his doubters wrong. That aggressive style has also helped him score three goals and five points in four games this season. As he prepares to play his first NHL game in Vancouver, Gallagher has no plans to change a style that allowed him to record 15 goals and 28 points as a Calder Trophy finalist last season.
That was the advice his father, Giants' strength and conditioning coach Ian Gallagher, gave his son over a "nice dinner" with the family on Friday night.
"Same thing he always says, just play the same way, do the same things and just be who you are," Brendan said. "That's the same thing he has told me since I was a little boy and it hasn't changed."
It's a style that allowed Gallagher to score 136 goals and 280 points with the Giants from 2008 to 2012 – both franchise records – while consistently irritating opponents.
"The only way I can be successful is playing that style," he said. "If I'm not doing that, I'm not a very good player."
Gallagher got used to the idea of an NHL homecoming Thursday in Edmonton, where he was born and raised before moving to Vancouver at age 12.
"To walk out of that tunnel [Thursday] night was pretty cool and it's going to be the same thing here," said the 21-year-old Gallagher, who had a goal and an assist in the 4-1 win over the Oilers and expects as many as 15 friends and family to attend his Vancouver homecoming.
Gallagher's spot atop the crease may be a little easier to occupy with 215-pound Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler serving a three-game suspension for a hit to the head of San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl in a 4-1 loss on Thursday. Yannick Weber, a 5-foot-11 defenseman known more for his skill, will move back to the blue line after starting the season as the Canucks' twelfth forward.
"He's a hell of a player," coach John Tortorella said of Edler, who played on the top power-play and penalty-killing units and leads the team with almost 25 minutes of ice time per game. "Other people need to step in and take his minutes."
Vancouver gets Zack Kassian back from an eight-game suspension – the final three of the preseason and first five of the regular season – for a stick swing that broke the jaw of Oilers forward Sam Gagner.
Kassian, who was on the top line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin before getting suspended, returns to action on a third unit centered by Brad Richardson but doesn't see it as an opportunity missed.
"Not at all," Kassian said. "I haven't earned anything. It's my job to get more playing time. I want to establish myself as a player. I want to have a bigger role and that all starts tonight, if I do the things I can and approach every shift the way I can."
Here are the projected lineups for the Canadiens and Canucks on Saturday:
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Mike Santorelli
Chris Higgins – Ryan Kesler – Jannik Hansen
Zack Kassian – Brad Richardson – David Booth
Tom Sestito – Zac Delpe – Dale Weise
Jason Garrison – Kevin Bieksa
Dan Hamhuis – ?????????Chris Tanev
Ryan Stanton – Yannick Weber
Injured: Jordan Schroeder (foot), Alexandre Burrows (foot)
Scratched: Andrew Alberts, Alexander Edler (suspended)
Alex Galchenyuk – Tomas Plekanec – Brendan Gallagher
Max Pacioretty – Lars Eller – Daniel Briere
Brandon Prust – David Desharnais – Rene Bourque
Travis Moen – Ryan White – Michael Bournival
Josh Gorges – P.K. Subban
Andrei Markov – Raphael Diaz
Jarred Tinordi – Francis Bouillon
Scratched: Brian Gionta (family reasons), Nathan Beaulieu
Injured: Douglas Murray (upper body), Davis Drewiske (shoulder), George Parros (concussion)