MONTREAL – The Habs have had their ups and downs in past years, but through it all one factor has always remained the same.
It’s hard to argue that Canadiens fans haven’t been riding the equivalent of a hockey rollercoaster over the past four years. Between a trip to the conference finals in 2009-10, to a last place finish in the East – their worst in decades – two years later, followed finally by a comeback campaign for the ages in 2012-13 that saw them finish fourth in the league, Habs fans have experienced every extreme along the spectrum. Yet throughout all the new faces, new linemates, new coaches and new management, Tomas Plekanec has been one of the Habs’ most consistent silver linings, producing points and playing tough minutes for his team.
| Tomas Plekanec scores vs. Sabres
Never one to stay idle, Plekanec kept busy during the NHL lockout by suiting up for his hometown Kladno HC, picking up 21 goals and 46 points in 32 games with the Czech organization. The work he put in overseas helped ensure that when the puck was finally ready to drop on this side of the pond, he was in the best possible shape to contribute to the Canadiens’ success.
“I felt good this year,” said the ever-durable Plekanec, who only missed one game in his most recent campaign for a total of seven over the past four seasons. “When you play over 30 games and then the lockout’s over and you have 48 more games to go in a short period of time, it’s easy to think that you might get tired or start to wear down. But I was surprised at how good I still felt towards the end of the year.”
With a point-per-game average through his first 10 games of the season, Plekanec not only got his campaign off to a strong start, but also quickly established himself as an essential reason why the Habs continued to get off to strong starts on a nightly basis. The Czech pivot opened the scoring for the Canadiens seven times and assisted on the team’s opening goal of a game another nine times, meaning that 16 of his 33 points in 2012-13 went towards getting the Habs on the board early.
“It was different this year. From Day 1 everyone was on the same page. We were all disciplined and everyone had to follow the same rules we had set in place. We all wanted to find success,” mentioned Plekanec, of the culture change within the organization.
“I would say team discipline was probably one of the biggest factors in our turnaround this year – that and being able to stay mostly healthy for the better part of the regular season. We did a good job of playing to our strengths.”
While a few moves are expected to be made by the Habs’ brass to add some more depth to the team over the summer, Plekanec was quick to point out the blueprint for success already exists within the Canadiens dressing room – and it has little to do with getting bigger.
“Our team identity is quickness and speed and when we play that way we’re successful. People are always saying that we need to get bigger and add toughness but I think we already have what we need,” shared Plekanec, who led the Habs this year in the faceoff circle, winning 50.6% of his draws. “We showed that against a team like Boston. Everyone says how tough they are, but we were down by two goals in their building in the third period [on March 27] and we came back so that should mean we’re tough too. I think that showed a lot of character from us.”
With injuries finally catching up with the Canadiens at the worst possible time – during their opening-round series against the Senators – the 30-year-old center reiterated that a lot more than just size goes into finding success in the postseason.
“This year we finished second [in the Eastern Conference]. We were in the top of the league; top of the standings. A couple of years ago we finished eighth and went to the conference finals and came pretty close to getting where we wanted to be,” he pointed out. “So I think it has a lot to do with timing and things coming together so everyone can play their best at the right time. If you get a bit of luck to go along with that you can really go far. We have a good team and I’m sure we’ll get there.”
After a disappointing first-round loss to Ottawa, Plekanec didn’t waste any time following in the path of teammates Alex Galchenyuk and Raphael Diaz, and heading over to Sweden to represent his country at the 2013 IIHF World Hockey Championships. Assisting on all three of the Czech Republic’s first period goals against Norway, it clearly didn’t take the reliable pivot long to make an impact in his first game of the tournament.
As for the future of the Habs, Plekanec has no doubt his team is making major strides in the right direction.
“We had a lot of young guys come up this year and they’re all good players with very good futures in front of them,” he concluded. “We have a good team to build on; we did a lot of positive things this year so hopefully we’ll continue to play well and do even better next year.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
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