MONTREAL – Tomas Plekanec has made a habit of getting things done at both ends of the ice.
Charged with shutting down the opposing team’s top snipers on a nightly basis, Plekanec has played 448:19 for the Habs so far this season, and not one of those minutes has been easy. Heading into Saturday’s game with the task of holding the NHL’s leading scorer off the scoresheet, Plekanec didn’t just snuff out Sidney Crosby’s offensive spark; he also chipped in with a big goal of his own.
“That whole line plays against other teams’ top guys and they have to be defensively responsible and at the same time, we expect them to pitch in offensively,” explained Brendan Gallagher, who finished with a plus-2 differential against the Pens. “It’s not an easy job and not a lot of people can do it. We lean on Pleky a lot. He’s a very good player, he’s very intelligent, he reads the play well and he understands where to go. I think he should get more credit [around the league], but we’re happy to have him, that’s for sure.”
The scoresheet wasn’t the only place Plekanec got the better of Crosby, winning 16 of his 21 draws on Saturday night to help send the Penguins’ captain packing with a 22% faceoff efficiency. That’s no easy feat when you’re up against the NHL’s second-best faceoff man.
“It wasn’t my first game against him, so you know a little bit how he plays, but he’s still the best player in the world,” admitted Plekanec, who scored his seventh goal of the season in the 3-2 win. “You can shut him down for 58 minutes and then in the last two minutes he can kill you. You never know what’s going to happen when you face him; you have to play 60 minutes against him.”
A rare breed of player who can spend as much time on the penalty kill as he does on the power play and be equally effective in both roles, the 31-year-old pivot has somehow managed to fly under the radar of Selke Trophy voters throughout his career. Inside the Canadiens’ dressing room, however, there’s no questioning how valuable the Czech center is in the lineup.
“Tomas was very good tonight. He scored a big goal for us, but he was good in all aspects of the game,” praised Habs head coach, Michel Therrien. “It’s always a challenge to play against the best players in the NHL and he rose to the challenge with his linemates tonight. He’s a smart player, he plays the right way and he’s always in good position on the ice. He does the right things. That’s why coaches have the confidence to put guys like that out on the ice.”
Dominating his draws, stifling opposing power plays and backchecking as hard as he forechecks have all helped Plekanec become one of the NHL’s top two-way players. But an underrated weapon he has stashed in his arsenal is his uncanny ability to make some of the league’s top trigger men forget about scoring and focus on distributing post-whistle face washes instead.
“I play against top line guys basically every night,” shared Plekanec. “It’s always a challenge to help the team win games and when you’re playing against the best player in the world you want to get under his skin and make sure he’s not on his game. When the game doesn’t go his way, he gets frustrated and you could see that tonight.
“That’s his weakness,” he added, after holding Crosby to four shots and a minus-1 differential while spending the majority of his time between whistles entangled in scrums with the four-time All-Star. “Everybody knows that. When you get him to play that way and get him to start running around slashing and crosschecking guys and jumping on guys from behind, you know he’s off his game. “
As for what Plekanec said to raise the ire of the perennial point leader on Saturday night, the nine-year NHL veteran preferred to plead the fifth.
“I didn’t tell him anything. He was talking; I was just listening,” he joked. “I’m a good listener.”
Yet another of Plekanec’s talents that goes underrated around the league…
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
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