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Leading man

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Winning draws is an art form few players have mastered, but Manny Malhotra is a part of that elite group.

The 34-year-old centerman, who signed a one-year deal with the Canadiens back on July 1st, has been nothing short of dominant in the faceoff circle since the start of the 2014-15 campaign, having bested his opponents 66.3 percent of the time through six games – tops amongst all regular Canadiens centermen to date.

Last Saturday night, the 16-year NHL veteran won a season-high 72.2 percent of his draws in the Canadiens’ 3-2 win over the Avalanche. That being said, it hasn’t taken long for his new coaches and teammates to recognize just how valuable a commodity the Mississauga native has proven to be early on.

“It’s one of the reasons why we went out and got him over the summer. We understand the importance of winning faceoffs. He does excellent work defensively, too, not only on faceoffs. He kills penalties. He’s a huge addition for us, especially because we can use him when the game is on the line. He takes a lot of pride in the fact that he wins those draws,” praised head coach Michel Therrien, who has utilized Malhotra in a fourth-line role alongside the likes of wingers Brandon Prust, Travis Moen and Dale Weise. “He’s an extraordinary person. He’s a well-respected athlete within our group, and that’s been the case everywhere he’s played. He’s a nice acquisition for us.”

Malhotra, who previously suited up for the Rangers, Stars, Blue Jackets, Sharks, Canucks and Hurricanes before joining the Canadiens three-and-a-half months ago, is adamant that his success in the faceoff circle goes far beyond relying on skill alone.

“It’s really just having that mentality of focusing on your task. I don’t think enough credit goes out to our wingers and our defensemen who are winning a lot of those 50-50 puck battles and those scrambles for loose pucks, too. I say it all the time. We’ve done a good job of having that mentality of putting five men on the draw. It’s worked for us,” confided Malhotra, who consistently ranks in the Top 5 in faceoff win percentage league-wide, and boasts 115 goals and 291 points in 939 career NHL games. “You have to respect the guys out there with you. They’re the ones that jump on the puck.”

It also doesn’t hurt to have taken an estimated 11,183 draws against a myriad of centermen during stints in both the Eastern and Western conference.

“If I’m good at what I do, it’s also because of my technique and my speed. The more you take draws, the better your timing will be. And, I know how other players take draws, too. I’ve got a little book with a page dedicated to each centerman in the NHL. It comes with experience and repetition,” confided Malhotra, who continues to perfect his technique with the help of assistant coach Dan Lacroix at some point during most, if not every on-ice practice session. “I take a lot of pride in my work.”

That certainly shows in the way the father of two goes about his business on the ice, demonstrating the class and professionalism that has defined him since making his NHL debut during the 1998-99 campaign.

“Early in my career, I realized that if you respect referees and linesmen, it helps a lot. If you want to yell at them and swear at them, things become a lot more difficult in the faceoff circle,” mentioned Malhotra, who overcame a career-threatening eye-injury suffered in March 2011, returning to full-time NHL duty last season in Carolina. “I have a good relationship with linesmen. I respect them. I understand that I have to work with them, not against them.”

Whatever Malhotra’s formula for success might be, it’s safe to say sticking to it has paid dividends time and again over the course of a stellar NHL career.

“I hope the job of being a faceoff specialist will remain something that’s important to teams in the league,” concluded Malhotra, who was a finalist for the 2013-14 Bill Masterton Trophy. “That means that there will always be a place for me.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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