“At this point of the season,” Carey Price said, “you just play like you got nothing to lose.”
And like Dylan wrote, “when you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.”
But your Canadiens aren’t in the ain’t-got-nothin’ category. The team has some good young talent, and there are veterans who can help contenders.
In which category would you place Tomas Plekanec?
Coming off his best game of 2012 in Sunday’s win over Winnipeg, Plekanec found himself with new linemates at the opening faceoff against Penguins: Travis Moen and Mathieu Darche.
It was a bit of a pressbox head scratcher, but Randy Cunneyworth’s strategy revealed itself as the first period unfolded. The coach wanted his best defensive centre and two disciplined, physical wingers to contain Pittsburgh’s best line: Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz.
Neal scored the Penguins’ second goal. And Plekanec was minus-2 on the game.
But Pleks played 23:54 (eight seconds more than against the Jets), matching Malkin’s 23:34. And he held the Pittsburgh superstar to one shot on goal.
“We played a unit of five against that line,” Mathieu Darche said, alluding to the Pleks line supported by Josh Gorges and P.K. Subban on the back end. “With Sid out, Malkin is the best player in the NHL. He likes to cut across the blueline, and that’s something we tried to take away.”
Mission accomplished. And as an added bonus, P.K. got into Malkin’s grille and under the Russian’s skin at the end of overtime.
“This is why they can’t trade Plekanec,” Patrick V. Hickey said as we looked over the stat sheet. “He held Malkin to one shot.”
Plekanec had six shots – a season high – of his own, but four were on the penalty-kill. He scored the winning goal in the shootout. He has been excellent against Washington and Pittsburgh, and Pleks’s play has doubtless caught the attention of the keen-eyed hockey men who fill the pro scouts’ section of the press gallery at this time of the season.
Maybe Pierre Gauthier is hearing some offers. And maybe packaging Plekanec with an Andrei Kostitsyn could bring something interesting in return.
Trade rumours will continue to swirl – the names you hear are Hal Gill, Travis Moen and Chris Campoli – unless the Canadiens start some sort of miracle run.
Which is still possible. They need about 41 points in their last 28 regular-season games, and 19-6-3 would do it.
If the Canadiens snatch road wins on the Island Thursday and at the ACC Saturday night … hey, start printing up those “You Gotta Believe!” tee-shirts.
At the risk of bumming out certain segments of the Commentariat, I don’t believe.
My fondest hope, as a journalist who is way too much of a fan, is to see the Canadiens play the role of tough-to-beat spoilers and, in the process, learn who is going to be helpful next season.
Like Louis Leblanc.
The kid should sublet his apartment in Hamilton. The effort we saw against Pittsburgh – on a high-energy line with Lars Eller and Rene Bourque – led me to suspect Leblanc has played his last game in the AHL … although he may go down to bolster the Bulldogs in their playoffs once the Canadiens are done.
Cunneyworth praised Leblanc‘s skill and work ethic. The kid is not the most swift-footed or elegant homeboy to ever lace up in Montreal, but Leblanc is smart and surprisingly tough. He is a battler, and he’s going to help the Canadiens for a long time.
As will Price, Subban, Eller, Emelin … the usual suspects.
What’s important – from now until whenever the Canadiens’ season ends – is for the young players to learn how to play with pride and professionalism, regardless of where the team sits in the standings.
The Canadiens must be as they say in baseball, a tough out.
And as Yogi Berra famously said, it ain’t over till it’s over.