PENTICTON, BC. –Playing in a smothering coaching system leaving little room for creativity, skating alongside teammates struggling to put as many pucks in the net as they should, and with the fall of Scott Gomez in the last two seasons, it’s on Tomas Plekanec that falls the burden of being the number one center, the catalyst of an offensively challenged team.
Plekanec is not having a bad season by any means, collecting 24 points in 30 games so far, which puts him on pace for a 65 points season. The question management and the coaching staff must ask themselves is where or how they can find ways to get more offense when the team sits 25th in the NHL in goals per game. In my opinion, it sits on the utilisation of their only proven and somewhat productive offensive center.
Under Jacques Martin, Tomas Plekanec is victim of his own strengths: skating, offensive threat and defensive awareness. Martin feels the need to use Plekanec short-handed to kill penalties due to that efficiency and the chemistry he’s developed in that role with Travis Moen. While no one in their right mind would argue his defensive ability, it’s also taking away time and energy which he could be using to generate offense instead.
Let’s look at a couple of other similar style centers and compare the ice time by their coaches. At home, Alain Vigneault will often put Henrik Sedin up against the opponent’s top line as he and his brother are so good at controlling the play. True that Vancouver can also rely on Ryan Kesler on the second line but that doesn’t take away from Sedin’s defensive ability. I’m also including three-time Selke winner Pavel Datsyuk for comparison.
While the overall ice time is comparable, you will notice that Sedin and Datsyuk spend very little time killing penalties. If you watched their games, you will have noticed that Vigneault and Babcock put them on the ice immediately after a successful penalty kill, taking advantage of the fact that the other team’s top offensive players are resting on the bench and they’ll often be facing the third or fourth line on the other side. They are fresh to produce offensively against weaker competition.
As it sits now with the Canadiens, Plekanec wastes precious energy in a defensive role, and he’s sitting on the bench resting after a kill, leaving his offensive line mates like Cammalleri to play with third and fourth liners for a shift. Having to kill penalties takes key quality minutes away from attacking, and that’s crucial on an offensively challenged team.
You can teach defense but you can’t teach offensive skills. You want momentum in a game? Train some less offensively skills players to kill penalties and use your offensive weapons in an offensive role. It seems to be working for other teams.
En français: Le Canadien a besoin de l’offensive de Plekanec