With Gallagher’s return, Habs hope Winter Classic gets ‘dirty’

FOXBOROUGH — There was one word Montreal captain Max Pacioretty kept using on Thursday, to explain what Brendan Gallagher would bring to the Habs lineup after missing the last 17 games with a broken hand:

Dirty.

Five times, to be specific — that was the number of dirty references Pacioretty made on the eve of the Winter Classic, which will be Gallagher’s first game since getting knocked out of action on Nov. 22.

“I think getting dirty goals around the net is very important, but also five-on-five, we’ve been lacking that, I guess, that energy and that extra grit that it takes to score those dirty goals,” Pacioretty explained. “It’s a tight league where you don’t see too many fancy goals anymore.

“A lot of them are dirty, and a lot of them sometimes he doesn’t get rewarded with the goal, but he’s doing a lot of the dirty work down low that helps out his linemates and his teammates.”

There’s no denying Gallagher’s impact on the Montreal lineup and, specifically, his role on the club’s top line next to Pacioretty and center Tomas Plekanec.

The 23-year-old had nine goals and 19 points through his first 22 games of the season, providing the grit-‘n-sandpaper element which proved an ideal foil to Pacioretty and Plekanec’s skill and finesse. Gallagher also embraced the net-front role, allowing his linemates to get pucks through from the perimeter — like on this goal, scored against the Isles in early November:

And even though he’s relatively young — this is just his fourth year in the league — Gallagher has a defined leadership role on the team, serving as one of the club’s four alternate captains.

So needless to say, he’s a big part of what Montreal does. And it’s probably not a coincidence the club went 5-11-1 in his absence, falling out of top spot in the Atlantic Division.

The Habs are excited that things are about to get dirtier, starting Friday.

“I think tomorrow’s probably a game that’s probably perfect for him to come back to,” P.K. Subban said. “It’s on a big stage, but this type of game, knowing the ice may not be in the best condition and being a chippy game, it’s right up his alley.”

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