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Habs' Gonchar becomes like a big brother for new defence partner Beaulieu
28 2014 . Montreal Gazette. By Pat Hickey.

Sergei Gonchar says hes ready to play a role in the development of his new defence partner, Nathan Beaulieu.

I dont know if big brother is the right word, but hes my teammate and Ill try to help him, said Gonchar, who will be paired with Beaulieu when the Canadiens play the Carolina Hurricanes Monday night (7 p.m., SNE, RDS, TSN Radio 690). I have more experience than him and Ill try to share it with him.

To say Gonchar has more experience is an understatement. The 40-year-old Russian has played 1,275 NHL games, while Beaulieu  who celebrated his 22nd birthday this month  has played 43 games.

Hes a good skater and hes got a good shot, Gonchar said when asked for his assessment of Beaulieu. When youre younger, sometimes youre out of position once in while. Its one of those things you have to pay attention to when youre younger. You learn with experience, but Ill try to cut that shorter by explaining things to him. Were trying to communicate, not only on the ice but on the bench between shifts.

Coach Michel Therrien said Beaulieu has earned the spot on the No. 2 pairing.

It always goes with performance and I really like the way Beaulieu has played since he came back from Hamilton, Therrien said. Hes engaged in the play. He skates well and hes making good decisions. Hes more solid than he was defensively. Playing with Gonchar will help him immediately, but also for the long term.

Gonchar, who was obtained from Dallas in a trade for Travis Moen on Nov. 11, has impressed Therrien with his conditioning.

Im really impressed with the way Gonchar has performed, said Therrien, who previously coached Gonchar in Pittsburgh. I knew the person and he always takes care that hes in good shape. At 40 years old, you have to do more. Hes got a great attitude and I think Beaulieu can learn from him.

When told of Therriens remarks, Gonchar said: Its very nice of him to say that. I dont know if its hard (to stay in shape), its just work. Day after day you do your warm-up, you do your stretch, you do extra exercises. It becomes part of your routine. It becomes second nature. Ive been fortunate to play with some older guys and I learned from them. Once in a while, you have a night when you feel like taking it off and you have to push yourself.

Gonchar said hes feeling comfortable as he prepares to play his 20th game as a Canadien.

I would say its not so easy to jump in the middle of the season after not going to training camp and have to learn a new system and new teammates, but now I feel comfortable here, Gonchar said.

The veteran has been averaging more than 18 minutes of ice time per game and was asked whether he was worried about wear and tear as the season goes on.

Lets wait and see how it is in another month, he said. Its hard to predict.

While Therrien shuffled his lines for this game, the top line with Alex Galchenyuk between Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher remains intact and Galchenyuk said he feels at home after six games at centre.

You can always do better, but Im satisfied with my last couple of games, said Galchenyuk, who has seven points and is plus-6 in the past six games. But after the break, its all in the past and Im focused on these games coming up.

Galchenyuk said his line has been successful because he and his linemates have similar skills.

We can all do the same thing, the 20-year-old explained. We can all make plays, we can all shoot and we all forecheck and play defence. When we combine our skills, its dangerous for defences playing against us.

Therrien had one surprise after practice Sunday when he announced that Carey Price will start in goal Monday. The coach said he hadnt decided who will play Tuesday in Florida. Therrien did say that backup Dustin Tokarski will play on this trip, which concludes back-to-back games Friday in New Jersey and Saturday in Pittsburgh.

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