A man for all seasons
MONTREAL – Tomas Plekanec is truly the Rodney Dangerfield of hockey.
For a player who filled many shoes on a team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013-14, the Czech could not be faulted for saying “I don’t get no respect!” His stats during the regular season - 20 goals, 43 points and a plus-11 rating in 81 games played - were solid for a top-two centerman. It may not have been enough scoring to satiate some fans who saw him put up 69 points alongside Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn back in 2007-08, but that would be overlooking Plekanec’s main value to the Canadiens.
Indeed, David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, the members of the Habs’ primary offensive line, would do well to send a nice bottle of wine Plekanec’s way this summer. By taking the bulk of the team’s defensive zone faceoffs, neutralizing top opposing centermen like David Krejci, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares, and putting up a point every other game, the veteran pivot allowed head coach Michel Therrien to deploy Desharnais & Co. in the offensive zone against second-line competition. It is no surprise, therefore, that all three of the aforementioned players either set new career highs in goals scored (Pacioretty, 39, and Gallagher, 19) or tied their previous best (Desharnais, 16). No. 14 does not get credit on the scoresheet for another line’s work, but much of the end result would not have been possible without his excellent two-way play.
Drafted by the Habs in 2001, Plekanec has been a primary component of the franchise’s forward corps since breaking into the NHL on a full-time basis after the 2005 lockout. Since then, his team has only missed out on postseason action twice and produced its share of memorable playoff moments.
“The mood is always special in a team when you go this far,” explained Plekanec, when asked about this past spring's postseason run.
Averaging 20:19 of ice time in all situations during the 2014 playoffs, Plekanec kept scoring at his usual pace, notching 9 points in 17 games. No spring chicken at 31 years of age, Plekanec actually did marginally more heavy lifting on the ice this postseason than in his first trip to the Conference Finals when he played 19:57 per game back in 2010 and registered 11 points along the way.
“In 2010 we had a lot less depth. We had maybe two good lines. This year everybody contributed,” opined Plekanec.
Instead of relying on Scott Gomez to get the job done when he was on the bench, the nine-year NHL vet could now count on the support of David Desharnais and Daniel Briere in the offensive zone and that of Lars Eller in a more defensive capacity. Tellingly, after scoring 2.42 goals per game during the 2010 playoffs, the Canadiens’ 2014 offense averaged three goals per outing in the postseason.
As it stands, Plekanec will once again be expected to take on a critical but thankless defensive task for the Canadiens in 2014-15. He may never win the Art Ross trophy, score 50 goals in a season or even top the 60-point mark again, but as he’ll explain to you on a late night over a cup of coffee, it’s all beside the point.