Monday, March 14, 2016

Alex Galchenyuk is hot -- and he has a new weapon

By Larry Wigge

If Alex Galchenyuk gets anxious ... gets preoccupied ... get nervous ... he works on his shot.

"I work on my shot a lot, in the summer, in practice, but this year mostly it's been about variations and being less predictable," he explained. "You have to adjust because the goalies know the tendencies and they can read you."

Well then ...

Everything about Galchenyuk, the third pick in 2012 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens, starts and ends with his shot, er, his stick. He has a new weapon in his hands this season and it is firing pucks like bullets.

Galchenyuk using the Bauer 1S composite stick, after using CCM sticks in the past. He signed an endorsement deal before this season to exclusively use Bauer equipment and apparel while working with Bauer Hockey’s product-development team to provide insight and feedback.

So far the feedback is pretty exciting.

Coming into this season, 20 goals was the best the 6-1, 198-pounder from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, could do.

Now ...

Galchenyuk has exploded for two goals against Winnipeg, Dallas and Buffalo in consecutive games beginning March 5. That matches Brian Savage's Montreal record set in October of 1995. The last member of the Canadiens to have five multi-goal games over an eight-game span was Jean Beliveau from February to March in 1959.

Galchenyuk now has 25 goals for the season.

Galchenyuk didn't only change brands, he also started using a bit of a longer stick with a different flex this season.

"It's a completely different stick," Galchenyuk said, who has always tinkered with his sticks.

"Always been white tape," he said. "I guess when I was growing up, my dad was always taping his stick white, so I kind of stuck with it."

That's one change the Russian bred youngster took from the father, Alexander, who was in the midst of a 20-year pro hockey career. Milwaukee of the International Hockey League just happened to be one his dad's many stops during his hockey odyssey. Alex, the youngster, grew up all over the world as a hockey brat in the United States, Germany, Italy, Belarus and Russia, but he was born in the U.S.

"I can speak Italian, Russian and English obviously," Galchenyuk said. "Actually I used to speak French ... I think I'll be starting French lessons in a few days."

He considers himself a hockey brat and is proud of it.

Galchenyuk returned to North America at 15 to play midget hockey in Chicago in the hopes of being drafted into the Ontario Hockey League and the Sarnia Sting were happy to oblige when they made the skilled, playmaking center the league's first overall pick in 2010.

"Maybe I see the world differently," Galchenyuk said of growing up in so many different countries. "I obviously feel half Russian because my parents are Russian, but half American because I was born here and I love the States. I love the country.

"It was my decision who to play for all the way. I talked to my dad and he said make the decision as you feel comfortable and I felt comfortable with USA Hockey and the organization, how they treat their players."

But that stuff is what a father-son talk about.

"We talk like father to son mostly," Alex said. "Sometimes we don't even talk about hockey. But he definitely enjoys watching me play.

"Sometimes he gives me advice and sometimes he just lets me do my thing."

Habs captain Max Pacioretty said the light bulb has gone off for his young teammate in the offensive zone.

"You get to a certain level and it's like the switch gets flipped," Pacioretty said. "There's no reason why or any recipe on how to get there, at least that's how it felt with me."

Indeed, Pacioretty, who broke out in a big way in his fourth full season around the time of his 200th NHL game. Galchenyuk has now played 261.

Montreal coach Michel Therrien said, "Alex is not the same player that he was maybe three months ago. The fact that he kept working, kept working. I think he's more mature in his game, he's going harder to the net, he's paying a little bit more attention to detail."

The biggest claim to fame for the 2012 NHL Draft wasn't about the first pick or the second pick, but the No. 11 pick Filip Forsberg, selected by Washington and later traded to Nashville, about about what a great scorer he has become. No. 1 Nail Yakupov and No. 2 Ryan Murray have mostly been insignificant. Now, No. 3 Alex Galchenyuk has come in to play.

While most NHL people didn't like him at center ... they are changing there opinions.

"A lot of people compare to a Marian Hossa or Evgeni Malkin type of player," Galchenyuk said. "My strengths are my ability to make playmaking plays. My ability to see the ice. My hockey sense. My hands."

He must learn to shoot more, saying, "Should shoot ... but I pass. I must work on that."

He always had his dad alongside. He laughed at one time he forgot that dad was his coach.

"Not a dad and son relationship at the rink," Alex said, shaking his head a little. "I made a huge mistake, when I called him dad at the rink. He's my coach ... and his has my future in mind. I learned long ago that he was harder on me than anybody else."

Stats can only reveal so much about a player -- Galchenyuk oozes skill, his wrist shot and stickhandling in tight quarters are clearly elite.

"In the past, he had nice two or three-game stretches," said Therrien. "This last month, he's been able to maintain a high standard of play."

Now, the main thing in this league is that you just have to get the shot off. Everything happens so quickly.

His one-timer from the off-wing is a weapon that's to be feared, but Galchenyuk said he's been working less on the strength and release of his shot than on when to use it.

That variable in shooting ...

Take it from Montreal goaltender Ben Scrivens.

"First off, everybody in the league can shoot the puck hard," Scrivens explained. "Within reasonable expectations, they're all pretty accurate, first line to fourth line. The difference between the elite shooters is how effectively they can get releases off. The guys who can pick their spots without giving any tells to the goalies about where they're putting it. The less movement you can have pre-shot.

"It's pretty difficult to beat guys with a big windup or the big stretched out wrist shot. What Chuky does so well is that he's in a shooting position almost all the time that he has the puck. His release starts from the same place that his stickhandling starts and his passing starts. So you never know which one he's going to do until the puck's coming down on you.

"Obviously he's got a great shot, but it's all the stuff pre-shot that makes him really elite."

Like we said Alex Galchenyuk works on his shot ... when he anxious, preoccupied or nervous. And he's got a new weapon on his side.

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