Calder nominee Gallagher looks to avoid sophomore slump

Brendan Gallagher couldn’t have asked for a better first year in the NHL.

The 21-year-old made the Canadiens out of training camp and was a dynamic figure in Montreal’s turnaround season, posting 28 points in 44 games and earning a Calder Trophy nomination as the Habs went from a 15th-place team in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 to second overall, winning the 2013 Northeast Division banner.

Now all that’s left for Gallagher is the encore — something he’s already started preparing for.

“Did I take time off to celebrate?” Gallagher replied when asked about enjoying his Calder nomination, as per The Province. “We were out in the first round of the playoffs. There was nothing to celebrate.”

It’s the kind of mentality needed to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

Several rookies — Calder nominees especially — have fallen on tough times in year two. Adam Henrique, a nominee in 2012, saw his points-per-game average dip to 0.38 (he posted 0.69 in his rookie year, when he scored 51 points in 74 games). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, another ’12 nominee, scored just four goals in 40 games last season after potting 18 in his rookie campaign.

Gallagher will face a similar challenge next season. He, like the Canadiens, exceeded expectations in 2013, meaning there’s a strong possibility of falling back to earth. There’s also his relative lack of size — 5-foot-9, 170 pounds — and the rigors of an 82-game schedule, as opposed to the lockout-shortened 48.

(He didn’t get through the shortened season unscathed, missing a handful of games with a concussion.)

It’ll be interesting to see what role Montreal head coach Michel Therrien plays in all of this.

There were some concerns he was shielding (or, over-shielding) Gallagher last season — check out this piece from Hockey Prospectus on under-used forwards, or this Habs Eyes on the Prize post about OT usage.

In the playoffs, Therrien went on a classic deflection/diversion rant, claiming Gallagher was “being abused” by Ottawa (Gallagher had a forgettable first round, scoring just two points in five games, finishing minus-7.)

That said, Therrien knows he doesn’t have to protect Gallagher from too much.

“The biggest reason why he’s had success is he works so hard, he goes to those places, those dirty places that he knows he’s going to get whacked, but he’s getting rewarded,” Therrien said earlier this season. “He’s a kid that’s always on the puck and he brings a lot of intensity to our team and we just love the way that he plays.”

Larkin will start season with Red Wings

Dylan Larkin
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Dylan Larkin — despite being just 19 years old — will begin the season on the Detroit Red Wings, a team not normally accustomed to having teenagers in the lineup.

Coach Jeff Blashill confirmed the news this morning. Larkin could apparently start on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.

Larkin, the 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft, had three goals and one assist in five preseason games. A natural center, he’s shown the potential to one day step into the kind of “big-time” role that Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have played for so long in Detroit.

“You have to give our scouts credit,” former coach Mike Babcock told ESPN in May. “We got a great pick where we picked. How high end is he? How soon?”

Related: Coaching change ‘one of the reasons’ Larkin signed with Wings

Preseason stats: Five goalies with good numbers, five goalies with…not

Anders Nilsson
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Yeah, yeah, it’s a small sample size and it’s just the preseason, but here are some goaltending stats anyway.

Five goalies with good numbers

Anders Nilsson, Edmonton — zero goals on 53 shots. His solid play a likely factor in the decision to waive Ben Scrivens, who actually wasn’t that bad in the preseason (4 goals on 56 shots).

Martin Jones, San Jose — three goals on 100 shots. The Sharks are rolling the dice on a couple of cheap goalies. Jones and Alex Stalock have a combined cap hit of just $4.6 million.

Jacob Markstom, Vancouver — three goals on 79 shots. Can he finally get over the NHL hump? If so, he could make it a real competition with Ryan Miller.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus — five goals on 122 shots. The Blue Jackets have scored a ton of goals in the preseason, but there remain questions about their blue line. Bobrovsky has the ability to make a so-so defense look good.

Anton Khudobin, Anaheim — two goals on 67 shots. A good early sign for the Ducks, who have Frederik Andersen in the starting role and want to give young John Gibson more time to develop in the AHL.

Five goalies with bad numbers

Thomas Greiss, Islanders — 14 goals on 94 shots. Has to be a bit of concern in Brooklyn. The Isles got below-average backup play last season from Chad Johnson. They wanted to fix that with the Greiss signing.

Robin Lehner, Buffalo — 11 goals on 95 shots. Tim Murray paid a hefty price to get the 24-year-old out of Ottawa. With the aforementioned Johnson in the backup role, the goaltending story is worth watching.

Jeff Zatkoff, Pittsburgh — 11 goals on 74 shots. Granted, Marc-Andre Fleury and Matthew Murray weren’t particularly sharp either. The Penguins conceded 28 goals in eight games.

Kari Lehtonen, Dallas — 15 goals on 84 shots. For a Stars team that desperately needs better goaltending, that has to be worrying. Antti Niemi wasn’t a whole lot better either, allowing eight goals on 65 shots. Fair question to ask — how many of all those goals were attributable to poor defensive play?

Pekka Rinne, Nashville — 12 goals on 91 shots. Has earned the benefit of the doubt, but thought we’d point it out anyway.