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.

5 comments:

  1. Harditya_CareyPriceNovember 25, 2009 at 4:57 PM

    Fantastic post, bud! Pleks definitely deserves the credit.
    I like your blog a lot. And posts like these are the reason why I bookmarked your website.
    Keep 'em coming, laddie!

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  2. Nice post Andrew. I love that you focus on assists. That was my stat of the year for the Score magazine -- a second line centre with 19 assists.

    You didn't delve into it, but what mechanically do you think he is doing differently? I seem to see him holding up at the blueline more.

    Also, do you think his play would stand up to more dedicated playoff defending?

    Just some thoughts...

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  3. Harditya - Thanks a bundle bud! I appreciate it more than I can express!

    Topham - From what I've noticed I think Plekanec is just more patient with the puck, and more self reliant. Not having to wait for Kovalev to deke through 4 players to cross the blueline helps as well. The reason I've been watching Plekanec's assist count all year is actually because of your article earlier in the year, talking about how bad the team was at passing last year, and how this held us back. As for playoffs, I sure hope so, but I can't tell. Tomas has had trouble elevating his play in the postseason so far in his career, but I don't remember him ever playing this well, so maybe he's turned a corner.

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  4. Let's say that the Habs re-sign Pleks to a long term contract. I think most posters and fans would agree wtih that move. That would give us two centres who will define the position for us during the next three or four years. The question then becomes, can we win a Cup with Gomez and Plekanec as our top two pivots?

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  5. Hey Steve, fair question, although I think it might be too simple. Gomez has already won a Stanley Cup as the #1 center in New Jersey in 2003, and he won it as a rookie #2 center in New Jersey in 2000. An argument could be made that he was the #1 center over Arnott in 2000 but that's semantics.

    Using the example of 2003, an aging Joe Nieuwendyk was the second line pivot, so I think Plekanec has a very large advantage over him. The reason New Jersey won that year however was not because of their 2 top centers, but because the team was able to become greater than the sum of its parts.

    In recent games I've seen this kind of fortitude from the Canadiens, and although I don't believe we're going to win the cup this season, I believe we can contend if we maintain this level of tenacity when all our injured players return. Of course us even making the playoffs is going to be a challenge, so I'm more worried about that right now than a cup.

    In the years to come however, if our young players continue to progress there's no reason why we can't be among the contenders for a cup. I'd like to see Gomez produce more points though.

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