Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Man Reborn

A lot of people have already done so, but I think it is time I officially give Tomas Plekanec some major credit this year. Those who communicate with me on a regular basis know I like Plekanec and have been impressed with him this year, but I haven't given him the kudos he's deserved yet.

Plekanec came into this year as an after-thought in my opinion. I thought after last year and how low his confidence was that he would be a poor excuse for a second line center, but boy was I wrong. After watching a couple preseason games I praised Gionta for making Plekanec look good and possibly lighting a fire under his butt, but again, I was totally wrong. Tomas Plekanec is his own worst critic, and that translated into him working his tail off this summer to be a better player. He came into camp in the best shape of his life and ready to prove himself all over again.

It has been talked about all season how Plekanec is playing better than he ever has, how he's become his own player after Kovalev's departure, but to understand how much better Plekanec has been this season I just want to look at one simple statistic; assists. Tomas had a terrible year last year but still managed 20 goals, very impressive for someone who's struggling, but only 19 assists over 80 games. For a guy penciled in as a #2 center coming into the season 19 assists is insanely low, so fans were right to be upset with his game. Over the offseason I questioned how good of a playmaker Plekanec is, thinking that perhaps a dominant powerplay and Kovalev's one good year in Montreal artificially inflated his statistics in 07-08. Tomas has quashed these thoughts in dramatic fashion, in fact he already has 19 assists this season, in 24 games. That means as far as passing goes, he's producing at almost FOUR times the rate as last year. Read that again if you don't believe it. What makes this even more amazing is that before tonight against Columbus, he hadn't played a full game with anyone who could really help him produce. He did most of his work with struggling linemates and on the powerplay.

If you're not already blown away by how well Tomas Plekanec has been passing the puck, allow me to throw out some comparisons. Plekanec is currently tied for 6th in the entire NHL in assists. Players who he happens to be tied with include Anze Kopitar, who's been lights out this season, Martin St. Louis, one of my favourite players and playing with Steven Stamkos, and Nicklas Backstrom, who happens to play with some guy you may have heard of named Alexander Ovechkin. While being tied with Kopitar and St. Louis is very impressive and certainly puts Plekanec in the elite level of playmakers in the league, the one that truly stands out to me is Backstrom. Plekanec has managed, without stable linemates, on an offensively inept (to this point) Montreal Canadiens team, to be tied with one of the best playmakers in the NHL in assists. He's managed to be tied with the guy who sets up the best goal scorer in the NHL. If that isn't amazing, I don't know what is.

Tomas Plekanec is the exact reason why players who have off seasons need to be given a second chance. He wants to play in Montreal and it shows. In analyzing just one aspect of his game I think anyone can tell that we need to keep Tomas long term. Let's hope that Bob Gainey feels the same way.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Habs Inside/Out Summit 2009

I had the privilege of partaking in the annual Habs Inside/Out fan summit this past weekend, and I can't recall a weekend where I had quite this much fun. It was great to put faces to names, although slightly nerve racking at the beginning because you don't know who's going to be there. Perhaps you meet up with someone you've had a heated argument in the past (Hello Tommy B!), and it might be awkward, but all that quickly falls away. Within minutes everyone sees each other without the vague tone of text, and communication becomes clear. We're Habs fans, and we all want the same thing, wins.

On Friday it seemed like everyone was a little nervous about the outcome of the weekend, a back to back with Washington and Detroit surely spelled disaster for a team with so much inconsistency and so many injuries, but the boys pulled off an unlikely win in Washington, and the confidence was flowing. Luckily for many fan's livers, even Marc-Andre Bergeron turned in a pretty solid performance against Washington.

On Saturday a tour of the Bell Centre, where many of us sat in Mike Boone's chair, was followed by a few drinks at Ye Olde Orchard Pub, and a ton of Habs stories shared by some great fans that I feel very privileged to have met in person. And in true Habs Inside/Out fashion the true stories soon gave way to a challenge, of who could MAKE the best stories. For example what is the REAL reason why Sergei Kostitsyn missed the bus in preseason, the more absurd the better. And if that doesn't catch your fancy, then who on Habs Inside/Out is Chris Chelios' illegitimate love child?

It was also an honour to meet Dave Stubbs, although unfortunately I wasn't able to stay at Hurley's long enough to meet some of the others who contribute to the site like Mike Boone and Chris Aung-Thwin. These guys give us some great topics to talk about, and despite what many say about the moderators of the site, they do their best to keep the site civil and that's a good thing. I don't think any other NHL team has a website that functions as well as ours for discourse among so many fans, and it's awesome to have it provided to us by these gentlemen.

After a rough first period there was a sour mood at the Bell Centre on Saturday, but thanks to the team rallying around a solid performance by Price, a new 1st line emerged 9 seconds into the 3rd period as Cammalleri converted on a dandy drop pass by the awakened Andrei Kostitsyn. All of a sudden, and in true Habs fan form, the Bell Centre was rocking. A short time later Kostitsyn made yet another perfect pass to Cammalleri, which tied the game. Unfortunately we couldn't tie the Vancouver Canucks' record of 9 straight OT and SO victories, but we stole a point when all seemed lost. We were proud of a Canadiens team that was very depleted with injuries, so there were no hard feelings. In fact I think I almost went nuts when we tied it, as evidenced by this!

In closing I'd like to give a big thanks to Ian Cobb, who organized this summit and worked his tail off to keep up with the young guns. You did a great job Ian, thanks for a perfect weekend! I'll leave you all with this today:

To you with failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high