Tomas Plekanec’s season was one long disruptive experiment not only for him but the Canadiens as a team. Over the entire year, his longest stretch with the same linemates was ten games with Michael Cammaleri and Brian Gionta which ended with the almost simultaneous trade of Cammalleri and the season ending bicep surgery to Gionta.
Out of their haphazard training camp, the coaching staff settled on a line of Plekanec, Michael Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn. The year before the three of them scored a combined 61 goals including Plekanec who scored 20-plus for the fifth year in a row while maintaining a reputation as one of the game’s better two-way forwards.
So, what the hell happened?
Well, to start that opening night arrangement lasted one game. In game two at Winnipeg, Cammalleri suffered that gash on his leg and went on the injury list. What happened next became a reflection of everything that went wrong with the Canadiens season. By the time the season was over, Plekanec had centered twenty-five different combinations. He had eight different left and ten different right wingers. The final eight games of the season he was left with the underachieving Rene Bourque and unprepared rookie Louis Leblanc. Together they scored five goals, three of them by Plekanec.
At first glance, Plekanec’s season totals weren’t all that bad. He registered 52 points including 17 goals, which isn’t too far from his 22 goals and team leading 57 points of 2010-2011. The startling difference was the minus-15 compared with plus-8 of the year beforem an ultimate deficit of 23 goals for a player relied upon to be as strong on defence as offence is not good.
In Plekanec case, it was all about environment – the company he kept. While Jacques Martin settled on Desharnais, Cole and Pacioretty as his go-to line in the season’s ninth game, he (and Randy Cunneyworth) couldn’t figure out what to do with Plekanec or, more accurately what on-ice company he was supposed to keep.
There were actually stretches of consistency. In 59 games, Plekanec had only two primary left wingers, Michael Cammalleri for 30 of the first 42 games and Rene Bourque for 29 of the final 40. Combined they scored a total of seven goals.
Right wing was actually Plekanec’s millstone. He played with ten of them. The combination of Plekanec and Cammalleri alone had five right wing partners – Gionta for 10 games, Kostisyn for five, Moen three, Cole and Blunden for two game each.
Cammalleri was traded to Calgary for Bourque. Bourque replaced Cammalleri on Plekanec’ left side. With Bourque and Plekanec were seven more on the right side. Darche was there for six games, then Gomez five. Louis Leblanc settled in for the final games of the season. The others were Eller, White four times each plus Blunden and Kostitsyn.
Besides that stretch when he played with Cammalleri and Gionta, Plekanec never had the same linemates for longer than six games (Bourque and Leblanc, Games 77-82). In the five games between 47 & 51 he played with Bourque and Gomez. Bourque and Darche had a five game run between games 56 and 60. Each of those stretches was ended by season-ending concussions to Darche and Gomez.
For the record, Plekanec’s most productive time was with Cammalleri and Gionta. In their ten games together they totalled scored 6 goals and ten assists. Plekanec had a goal and 7 assists. Gionta three goals and Cammalleri two.
Along with his even strength confusion, there was that stint at point on the power play which didn’t work out very well. But, he was also key part of the second best penalty killing unit in the league. And, like a good soldier, he took his erratic coaching orders without complaint, which has to be worth something.
Maybe it’s presumptuous but assuming Plekanec and Gionta return to make up two-thirds of the Canadiens second line, the job of the new Canadiens management is to find a big power leftwinger to complement them. Easier said than done.