Tomas Plekanec has arguably been the Habs best and most consistent offensive presence since the beginning of 2007. In the month of January, Plekanec scored 6 goals and added 6 assists for 12 points in as many games. He is a player who has been one of the hardest workers on the ice every night throughout the season.
However, his hard work didn’t necessarily reward him with a lot of points early in the season. Plekanec’s confidence may have taken a bit of a dive after an unsuccessful tour of duty centering Sergei Samsonov and Alex Kovalev. It seemed as though the defensive minded center was no fit for the offensive minds of his wingers, so Plekanec was ultimately dropped down to the bottom two lines.
After several different attempts were made using various combinations, Coach Guy Carbonneau discovered the problem did not lay with the players fit into the second line, but with the line itself: Kovalev and Samsonov. Plekanec had been playing with much more confidence and was assigned back to the second line along side the inconsistent Russian wingers. However, with the team’s horrible play after the Christmas break, further line juggling was required, and Sergei Samsonov now finds himself on the third line flanking Radek Bonk.
Although Plekanec won’t likely ever shatter any offensive records, he is an effective two-way player that continues to develop due to his willingness to play hard and accept the various roles he’s assigned. He’s played on all but the Habs’ first line, while centering many different combinations of players. However, Alex Kovalev has remained a mainstay on his right wing over the past month, and the two seem to finally be clicking. The problem lies with finding a left-wing who compliments the two. Guillaume Latendresse has been a decent fit on the line, providing a physical presence to open up his linemates.
The 5’11”, Czech born center has played in every situation for the Canadiens this season. He’s done well for himself as a penalty killer, and has even scored 2 shot-handed goals and has 2 shot-handed assists, the second of which came in Montreal’s last game against the Ottawa Senators. With that goal, a nifty back-hander scored on a partial break-away, Plekanec picked up his 10th goal of the season, which set a new career high.
Plekanec will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and will likely demand a raise from the $450,000 he is making this season. With Bonk potentially leaving the team through free agency this summer, especially if GM Bob Gainey decides to pay both Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov to stick around, Tomas Plekanec will likely return next season with a comfortable position as the Habs’ third-line center. However, if the team is unable to either sign a center for the second line, or find one in the form of a current prospect such as Mikhail Grabovsky, it is quite possible that Plekanec will continue to skate into the offensive zone with Kovalev on his wing into 2008.
Going into the Habs’ game against the Penguins on Thursday, Plekanec has played 50 of 51 games this season, missing only a single match due to the gastrointestinal virus that ravaged the entire team after the Christmas break. He has 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points while also collecting 26 PIMS. Also, his +5 rating ranks him third on the team among plus/minus leaders, behind only Alexander Perezhogin (+12) and Mike Johnson (+11).
Meanwhile, he has shown he can pick up points with the man advantage, with 3 of his goals coming on the power-play. He also has 5 power-play assists this season. Thus, when added to his short-handed points, half of his 10 goals, and half of his 24 points, have been scored via special-teams. Considering Montreal’s dominance in the special-teams department this season, it’s only fitting.
In 67 games during his rookie season with the Montreal Canadiens last season, Plekanec registered 29 points, 9 of which were goals, 32 PIMS, and was a +4. There is a good chance the he will surpass his point total of last season before his 67th game this season, as he only needs 6 more points over the next 17 games to do so. An encouraging stat shows that Plekanec has been shooting slightly more this season, with 87 shots in 50 games, just 12 less than his total from last season over the 67 games. Increased ice-time and the coaches’ encouragement can probably be accountable for this.
Plekanec’s smart hockey sense has really attributed to his success in each of the levels he’s played. He played 3 full seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs from 2002 to 2005. In 233 games with the Bulldogs, Plekanec has 71 goals and 105 assists for 176 points, was assessed 234 PIMS, and had a very good plus/minus of +30.
Plekanec’s best season in the AHL offensively came during the NHL lockout when he played 80 games for Hamilton, scoring 29 goals and 64 points. It was during this season that he was named to the AHL All-Star game. Not only did he score a goal both in the game and in the shoot-out to help the team win 5-4, but Plekanec was named the game’s MVP.
An interesting fact concerning Plekanec is his consistent plus/minus rating. Plekanec has never completed a regular season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL nor the Montreal Canadiens with a plus/minus of less than +4, while his best rating came with the Hamilton in 2004, a +21. Even in the post-season Plekanec has shown to be a reliable player, with his lowest rating registering at +2, once with the Habs and another with Hamilton.