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NHL Stadium Series

Plekanec getting used to new normal with Maple Leafs

Forward set to play third game for Toronto in Stadium Series against Capitals

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Tomas Plekanec said it three times.

"It's hard to erase 15 years over a couple days."

The 35-year-old center, the newest member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was talking in general terms. It's been 16-plus years since the Montreal Canadiens selected him in the third round (No. 71) of the 2001 NHL Draft and 14-plus years since he made his NHL debut on Dec. 31, 2003.

Plekanec's larger point, though, is the Canadiens and their way of doing things are all he's known as an NHL player. After being traded to Toronto on Sunday, he finds himself playing for the team he learned to despise.

"It's different," Plekanec said. "It's 15 years of one thing. It's hard to erase it in a couple days. But it's normal. These days, players get traded and they've got to put new jerseys on. It's same for me. I'm trying to do the best I can."

It's a work in progress.

He has had two practices with the Maple Leafs, including at McMullen Hockey Arena on the campus of the U.S. Naval Academy on Friday.

He has played two games for the Maple Leafs, both road losses. The first was a 4-3 shootout defeat against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday and a 3-2 overtime loss the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. He had no points and three shots on goal in 25:07 of ice time.

Plekanec played between Zach Hyman and William Nylander against the Panthers, taking the spot of injured forward Auston Matthews (shoulder). He's expected to skate in that spot against the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVAS, NHL.TV).

Plekanec will move down the lineup to play center between Leo Komarov and Kasperi Kapanen once Matthews returns, which could be as soon as next week.

"I'm just trying to catch up as much as I can in a few days," said Plekanec, who had 24 points (six goals, 18 assists) in 60 games with Montreal this season. "I'm trying to get into the team stuff as much as I can. I'm working on it day by day and getting better day by day."

The Maple Leafs wanted to get Plekanec from the Canadiens for specific reasons.

They love that he's a veteran who will play in his 984th career regular season game Saturday. Patrick Marleau (1,559) is the only Maple Leafs player to appear in more NHL games than Plekanec.

Plekanec's experience, in fact, is already impressing Toronto's talented young players.

"He just does things right," said 20-year-old forward Mitchell Marner. "He's smart. When he's on the ice, he's in the right position. He's competitive out there, in practice, as well. That's kind of just the thing you've got to pick up on."

Morgan Rielly, Toronto's 23-year-old defenseman, said young players can easily pick up on things that Plekanec does, including aspects of his work habits.

"Whether you start doing it is up to you, but you can notice it almost right away," Rielly said. "The older guys that have played over 900 games are in this League that long for a reason and they're doing something right. He's a perfect example.

"He'll be important for us down the road."

The Maple Leafs also love that Plekanec has a history of facing the Boston Bruins and, in particular, frustrating forward Brad Marchand. Toronto is in third place in the Atlantic Division, one point behind Boston, and could likely play the Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"He's had success there in the role that he plays," Toronto general manager Lou Lamoriello said.

Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock likes having Plekanec in his lineup because he gives Toronto an opportunity to gain an advantage in the details of the game, such as matchups, face-offs and penalty killing.

"I can get a can't-miss matchup," Babcock said. "What I mean by that is when [Matthews] is back, you have Leo, [Plekanec] and [Kapanen], it doesn't matter who they play against. If we miss our matchup, they can go next and I think that's important. The other thing is [he's] a real strong face-off guy on the backend side for the penalty kill.

"We just think that he can really help us, really give us depth, and be in a position that we're not scared of any matchup as time goes on."

The key is time. Plekanec needs more of it to get up to speed with the Maple Leafs' systems, their way of doing things, and, frankly, to get used to actually playing for the Maple Leafs instead of trying to beat them.

"It's hard to erase 15 years over a couple days, but it's normal these days," Plekanec said, repeating himself for the third time. "Players get traded. We get traded to other teams we don't like as well. You have to flip the switch on and do the best you can."

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