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Doing things differently

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – When Alexei Emelin left Russia in 2011 to come to North America seven years after first being drafted by the Canadiens, his arrival was preceded by his reputation as a defenseman with a devastating shoulder.

And, he’s lived up to his billing.

Emelin’s hits have made him a highlight-reel regular over the years, even spawning the #EmelinBoom hashtag which seems to trend every time the Russian rearguard deals another one of his punishing blows.

But in his fourth season on this side of the Atlantic, at 29 years of age, the bruising blueliner decided to fine-tune his game with a little finesse.

Sure, Emelin may not have sent as many opponents into the stands, or lit up Twitter with as many #EmelinBoom mentions as in years prior, but his new approach nevertheless paid off.

In addition to playing a career-high 68 regular season games, the veteran D-man was also trusted with a variety of new on-ice responsibilities by assistant coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault. Playing over 20 minutes a night on 39 occasions, Emelin saw his average ice time increase to 19:49 per game in 2014-15, while also filling in for departed former teammate Josh Gorges on the penalty kill. The Canadiens’ third-round pick in 2004 spent an average of 2:20 per game playing down a man, up from 1:43 in 2013-14 – notably limiting opponents to 6.14 goals per 60 shorthanded minutes versus 7.60 goals the year prior.

Without a stable partner on the blue line for the majority of the season before being paired with newcomer Jeff Petry following the March 2 trade deadline, Emelin also made it clear that he can adapt to any style of play.

Case in point, the six-foot-two, 217-pounder formed five of Montreal’s eight most efficient even-strength pairings on the ice. That is, whether playing alongside Nathan Beaulieu, Sergei Gonchar, Tom Gilbert, Mike Weaver, or Greg Pateryn, Emelin and his partner du jour allowed an average of 1.40 goals or less per 60 minutes of five-on-five play while the team average sat at 2.0. Come playoff time, the Petry-Emelin pairing dropped that number to a ridiculous average of just 0.70.

Scoring his usual three goals for the fourth time in as many NHL campaigns, in addition to registering another 11 assists, the Togliatti native finished his first season on a new four-year contract with a career-best plus-5 differential.

Opting for efficiency over his previous flair for the fierce, Emelin meanwhile continued to make his usual mark on the scoresheet, blocking 100-plus shots (116) for the second time in his career, in addition to dishing out 204 hits, joining a select group of just 10 NHL defensemen to rack up over 100 blocked shots and 200 hits in 2014-15.

That’s proof enough that success can’t always be measured in hashtags.

Alexandre Harvey is a writer for Translated by Steven Nechay.

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