So, continuing in my 5 part series on what will (or won't) make the Habs successful this season, I want to start off by replying to one of the comments from my last post. In my previous post, I had said that I define the Habs' success as finishing anywhere between 4th and 8th, in the East. The poster, 'flamminghead', wondered why not 1st, 2nd, or 3rd? Well, the answer is that OF COURSE that would also be seen as a successful season, and a very successful one at that! But, I guess for me, if the Habs finish in the bottom four or five spots, I consider that they have had a successful regular season, given that I am not 100 sure about this line-up yet. If, however, they manage a stellar season and finish in the top 3, that is just gravy!
Ok, on with the show.
Continuing with the theme of centers, Tomas Plekanec needs to step up his game. During his last four seasons with the Habs, Pleky has played 311 games, went 78 – 106 – 184 for points, and is an overall +20. Not bad. Not bad at all. Especially considering that he was a 3rd round draft choice. Up to, and including two seasons ago, Plekanec had gotten better and better each year.
I remember three seasons ago when it looked like Plekanec was going to be centering a line with Kovalev and Samsanov, and Pleky wasn’t too sure about the entire situation. I remember reading quotes from him that he hoped they didn’t expect him to lead, and that he would be following them and that, generally, he seemed to be lacking confidence and was kind of intimidated by his line mates. That was Pleky’s third year with the Habs and one in which he ended up being one of the biggest surprises on the team, after Christmas. I remember him having one of the strongest finishes of all of the players on the team and he carried that success into the following season.
The following year (2007 – 2008), the Samsanov problem was gone, as he was no longer with the team, and the thinking was that the Canadiens should be better, without that distraction. Well, right out of training camp, Pleky had confidence in his game. He seemed to be over that psychological hump that came from playing on a line with Kovy. He seemed ready to do some damage and maybe have a breakout season. Well, 81 games later, he put up his best showing yet going 29 – 40 – 69 and plus 15 for the year. Not coincidentally, Kovalev put up 84 points for his second best output in his career. But make no mistake, Plekanec’s confidence was the biggest reason for the success of that line.
When the playoff’s swung around, however, Plekanec disappeared. As the big bad Bruins leaned all over the smaller but more skilled, Canadiens players, Plekanec refused to go into the high traffic areas, on the ice. This made him a perimeter player and completely neutralized him - and Andrei Kostitsyn for that matter. The fall from grace, for Plekanec, was highly disappointing to Habs fans, who had such high hopes for the playoffs and for Pleky. But there was no question that he had become a shrinking violet. It was during those playoffs that he was quoted as saying the he was playing like a little girl. While I thought his quote was hilarious, I also thought that it was the sign of someone who was being honest with themselves. Hopefully, Pleky would be able to carry that over to the next season.
Well, the next season – last year – came and went, and while Plekanec remained aware of his shortcomings, he continued to fall short of his capabilities. He was, for most of the season, a perimeter player. He seemed snake bitten, unsure of himself and like a player who was thinking too much. As such, the second line was never able to jell and produce on a regular basis. Tomas took as step back, last year, finishing 20 – 19 – 39 and was a minus player (-9) for the first time in his career. If Plekanec can’t find that consistency and confidence that made him a key cog in the Habs wheel or success, from two seasons ago, this will ultimately end up being another up and down season for Montreal.
Why he should succeed
While Plekanec has scored 20 or more goals in each of the last three seasons, and has played at least 80 games in the past three seasons, he needs to be a more consistent performer for the Habs to be successful. He is currently penciled in as the 2nd line center, behind Gomez. While he lacks the ideal size of an elite NHL center, Plekanec more than makes up for it in speed and skill. He showed, two years ago, that he has the ability to be an elite second line center, in the NHL. In order for Montreal to have a successful season, they need to have the top two lines producing on a regular basis. From where I sit, Plekanec is the key to that second attacking unit. I predict a bounce back for Plekanec, this year. I am not sure what the line-up will look like but would not be surprised to see Cammalleri on his wing. Having a proven finisher like Cammalleri, on Pleky’s wing, should help him get back to the 60 point mark and should help Montreal have a solid season. Now if only Andrei Kostitsyn could get his butt in gear, we’d be laughing. But that's a topic for the next blog.