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Rock steady

Thursday, 10.05.2012 / 9:27 AM / News
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Rock steady

MONTREAL – Think Tomas Plekanec turned in a disappointing performance in 2011-12? Think again. Here are a few numbers to change your mind.

With the amount of upsides that Plekanec brings to the Canadiens lineup year after year, it’s a wonder he still manages to fly under the radar. While the Cole-Desharnais-Pacioretty line stole the show all season long, Plekanec was quietly hard at work mounting his third consecutive 50-plus point season – something no other player on the current Canadiens roster has come close to attaining.

The hallmark of a good player is finding a way to make things work in less-than-ideal conditions. While the Habs’ top line of 2011-12 spent the majority of the season as a cohesive unit, each helping the others’ numbers climb as they all enjoyed career years, Plekanec followed closely behind, despite being saddled with a revolving door of struggling or injured wingers.

“It would definitely be nice to have constant linemates,” admitted the Czech pivot, who played on lines composed of more than 11 different Habs forwards in the team’s latest campaign. “On one hand it’s sometimes good for a player not to get too comfortable playing with only one or two guys, because if all of a sudden one of them gets hurt, then everything gets thrown off because you’re not playing with the guys that you like.

“On the other hand, when you do have consistency like that, you get to play with guys who you know what they’re doing, and you can have expectations of where they’re going to be, whether on offense or defense.”

The 29-year-old center may be best known for getting fans on their feet with his knack for playmaking, but it’s his skills in his own zone that make him one of the Canadiens most versatile and useful players. In addition to ranking forth in points among his teammates, Plekanec also stood out as a key player on the club’s immensely successful penalty kill, disputing on average almost a minute more of shorthanded ice time per game than any other Canadiens forward.

“Being a top center has a lot to do with how many minutes you play and what situations you get put in on the ice,” explained Plekanec, who proved time after time that he wasn’t just effective when killing penalties – he was also dangerous. It became almost commonplace to see the Kladno native streaking in shorthanded on opposing goaltenders, creating scoring opportunities or drawing penalties of his own in the process. Plekanec finished the season tied for fourth in the NHL with three shorthanded markers. His most notable: an unassisted goal in the final game of the season, scored while killing a 5-on-3, something only one other player in the league – Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke – managed to do in 2011-12.

“It can sometimes be an advantage to have a coach feel like you can play with anybody or be put in a variety of situations and still succeed,” he added, after helping the Habs lay claim to the second-best NHL penalty kill, behind only the New Jersey Devils. “It’ll be up to the coach next year to put me in whatever situations he thinks are the best for me. With everything that went on this year, it wasn’t always easy. Obviously no one wishes to have things like that happen. But you have to live with it, be stronger mentally, focus on hockey and just try and be a better player.”

For the immediate future, Plekanec will work on bettering his game by playing more of it, traveling to Europe to represent the Czech Republic at the 2012 World Championships. As far as the next incarnation of the Canadiens finding success goes, the lifelong Hab hopes to live up to his own notoriously high expectations, but knows it all hinges on a solid team game – whatever form the team happens to take this offseason.

“If you look back to a couple of years ago when we had a good run to the conference finals, we weren’t the toughest team in the league or anything like that. We just played hard, we played the system, we were quick, smart, and had a strong goalie – that’s why we went far. Toughness obviously helps, but there’s more than one way to make a team,” concluded Plekanec, who has been a rock for the Habs over his career, missing only 10 games in the last six seasons, compared to the team’s 440 man-games lost to injury this year alone.

“We have a good group of players who had strong years this year. We have a strong goalie. Now we just have to see what management feels we need to get better,” he mentioned. “It’s time to turn the page.”

Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.

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