BROSSARD – With points in eight of the Canadiens’ first 10 games this season, Tomas Plekanec is enjoying life alongside linemates Brian Gionta and Rene Bourque.
The trio, which has spent the entire season together thus far, has provided the 30-year-old pivot with a degree of consistency he lacked last year. Spending time flanked by just two wingers is a welcome change from the revolving door he experienced in 2011-12 when he skated with 10 different line combinations and experienced his lowest offensive production (52 points in 81 games) since the 2008-09 campaign.
Despite seeing limited playing time in training camp due to a rib injury, Plekanec is currently leading the Habs with six goals, and is tied with Andrei Markov for the team lead with 10 points.
“I feel good,” he confirmed. “I’ve had a couple of lucky bounces on goals and I have a good line going with Gio and Bourquey. We’ve stayed together for 10 games which has been very helpful and [we’ll try to] keep it going.”
Coming off Thursday night’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres in which Plekanec netted his fifth and sixth goals of the season, Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien praised the Czech center and his linemates for their strong starts to the lockout-shortened campaign. The Habs bench boss also noted the sense of familiarity between the three veteran forwards has been mutually beneficial.
“Right now, [Plekanec] has stability with his partners and the fact that Gionta is healthy helps him a lot. Rene Bourque is also playing really good hockey, which helps those two together,” explained Therrien following the team’s Friday morning practice. “They seem to have good chemistry and they play really well, game in and game out.”
Plekanec, who has evolved over the years into one of the NHL’s top penalty killers, is also one of the league’s leading two-way forwards – something Therrien mandates in his players, and emphasized again on Friday.
“Tomas doesn’t only play well offensively; he creates good things, but he also has a lot of responsibility at the core of our team, just as much offensively as defensively,” added Therrien. “He’s still one our best faceoff guys, so he has a very important role. He takes his work very seriously, he’s full of honor, and he has a central role at the heart of our team.”
While Plekanec won’t readily admit that spending time with his hometown HC Kladno squad during the lockout helped propel him to a hot start, the nine-year NHL veteran is adamant that competing in the Czech Elite League kept his legs fresh for the start of the 2012-13 campaign. In 32 games with Kladno, Plekanec registered 21 goals and 46 points.
“It’s hard to say. I feel good obviously and I know for myself I made a really good decision to play,” he shared. “I didn’t even question it if I would play or not. I want to play hockey, and I had the chance to play in my hometown, so for me it was a no-brainer. But, it’s hard to say how I would feel if I hadn’t played. Maybe I would be feeling stiff, but for some guys it was good to get some rest and get ready for the season.”
Heading into Saturday night’s matchup with the Leafs, Plekanec is maintaining the sense of optimism that’s propelled him into a leadership role. Despite dropping two games in two nights to the Bruins and Sabres, respectively, Plekanec is focused only on recouping the two points the Canadiens missed out on during the home opener against Toronto on Jan. 19.
“It was the first game of the season. You’re trying to find your groove, trying to find the way you’re going to play. Especially after that last season, we knew we wanted to jump out hot right away, but it wasn’t the case,” he admitted. “We want to win the game. We want to get those two points back that we lost the first game.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer with canadiens.com.
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