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Galchenyuk regaining confidence after early-season struggles

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Coming out of the holiday break, Alex Galchenyuk was feeling fresh.

Not just because he shaved off the beard that he's sported for as long as he can remember, but because he got some much-needed time away to reset both mentally and physically after experiencing his share of struggles over the first half of the season.

"It's a demanding schedule. We have a lot of games," Galchenyuk said. "So when you get five days like that, it takes time to adjust, but it's nice. You need that. Definitely reboot your energy and came back fresh."

That has shown with his play, as Galchenyuk recorded goals in back-to-back games to help the Penguins sweep their home-and-home series with Nashville on Dec. 27 and 28. Prior to the holiday break, Galchenyuk had two goals in his previous 27 outings.

"It's been a little bit of a surprise to have a tougher start, but this weekend it went well," Galchenyuk said. "I definitely feel better. It's always nice to contribute and produce, but at the same time there's a lot of ways to improve and I got to keep working at that. 

"Keep sticking to it and keep working on chemistry with the linemates (Dominik Kahun and Jared McCann). We've been having some pretty good games, so we've got to continue that."

That mindset is what helped him break out of his funk, as Galchenyuk really has been working diligently all season at the details of his game after returning from injuries that derailed the start of his season. He just hadn't been getting rewarded with results until now.

"He's really a great person. He cares so much," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. "When Alex was going through a bit of a struggle early on it really wasn't from a lack of effort or a lack of care or a lack of want. It was just a struggle for him."

Not only was Galchenyuk adjusting to everything that accompanies joining a new team, the 26 year-old forward was trying to get his rhythm and timing back after missing the majority of training camp and nine of Pittsburgh's first 12 games. 

The coaching staff kept encouraging Galchenyuk to stick with it, and assistant coach Mark Recchi spent a lot of 1-on-1 time with him watching video.

"Just trying to help him clarify what our expectations are, the details of our team game and adjusting to that," Sullivan said. "He just keeps working at it. I give Alex credit. He just stays with it. We all believe that he's a better player than he's shown to this point. And we're just trying to help him get there, that's all."

This past weekend was a huge step in the right direction in that regard for Galchenyuk, who scored a team-leading 19 goals last season for Arizona.

In Friday's 5-2 win at Bridgestone Arena, Marcus Pettersson put a shot from the blue line toward the Nashville goal. Standing right in front of goaltender Pekka Rinne was Galchenyuk atop the crease. He tipped the shot, found his own rebound and slipped the puck through the legs of Rinne for a goal. 

"I saw (Kahun) was patient with the puck, he passed it to the D and I was just trying to get in front," Galchenyuk said. "Gave a good screen and happy that it bounced right on my stick. It was a good goal for me."

In Saturday's 6-4 win at PPG Paints Arena, Galchenyuk took a pass from John Marino between the hashmarks, lined up a shot and whipped it past Rinne for a power-play tally.

"I work on my shot a lot," Galchenyuk said. "It's not like I haven't scored a goal in this league. A lot of people have been making a lot out of it. But I've been through cold stretches before and now it's been going well for me I've got to stick to it and keep working on my game and keep shooting the puck quicker."

And now, heading into tonight's game against Ottawa, Galchenyuk is hoping to keep that momentum going.

"The fact that he scored a couple of goals in a couple of games I think will be a big boost of confidence for him, and it should be," Sullivan said. "They're two really good goals, real important goals for us. And he scored them different ways. That's what we think Alex is capable of. My hope is that he can build on these two games."

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