Stu Cowan: Pressure’s on Tomas Plekanec as Habs lose Alex Galchenyuk
ST. LOUIS — There’s a great scene in the movie The Rocket in which former Canadiens coach Dick Irvin has the trainers drag a hockey net into the team’s locker room.
Maurice Richard and his teammates were having a hard time scoring goals at one point during the early 1950s and Irvin had a question for his players.
“Now, gentlemen,” Irvin says while holding a puck in his hand. “I would like you to think about what is so difficult about putting this little thing into that great big thing.”
Current Canadiens coach Michel Therrien might want to think about bringing a net into the room before Tuesday’s morning skate at the Scottrade Centre and showing it to Tomas Plekanec and a few other players now that Alex Galchenyuk is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury.
The Canadiens announced Monday afternoon that Galchenyuk went for medical testing in St. Louis and would be evaluated by team doctors in Montreal Wednesday with an update on his condition coming later in the week. Galchenyuk had a knee-on-knee collision with the Kings’ Anze Kopitar during the third period of the Canadiens’ 5-4 shootout win in Los Angeles Sunday with Galchenyuk’s right knee taking the blow. The 22-year-old tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee as a junior with the Sarnia Sting and missed almost an entire season before the Canadiens selected him with the No. 3 overall pick at the 2012 NHL Draft.
The Canadiens, who cancelled a scheduled practice Monday afternoon, wrap up a five-game road trip when they play the St. Louis Blues Tuesday night (8 p.m., SNE, RDS, TSN Radio 690).
While the Canadiens generated enough offence to beat the Kings Sunday, Plekanec was once again held off the scoresheet. The veteran centre has gone 13 games without a goal and has only three assists during that span. Plekanec has only one goal all season and that came on Nov. 5 when he scored a short-handed goal in a 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Plekanec is the Canadiens’ highest-paid forward (US$6 million annually), earning $250,000 more than Alexander Radulov and $1.5 million more than captain Max Pacioretty.
Through Sunday’s games, there were 398 NHL players who had scored more than one goal this season, including Canadiens fourth-line centre Torrey Mitchell, who has five while averaging only 12:51 of ice time. Plekanec is averaging 17:10, second only to Pacioretty’s 18:05 among Canadiens forwards. Plekanec has been on the ice for a total of just over 429 minutes — more than seven hours with only one goal to show for it — while Mitchell has played just over 321 minutes.
With Galchenyuk on the sidelines the Canadiens simply need to get more offence out of Plekanec, who has 1-6-7 totals in 25 games, tying him for 331st in the NHL scoring race through Sunday’s games. But Plekanec isn’t the only one who will have to pick up his offensive production until Galchenyuk gets back or GM Marc Bergevin can make some kind of a trade for another centre.
David Desharnais, who took Galchenyuk’s spot Sunday between Pacioretty and Radulov, picked up two assists against the Kings after posting 1-2-3 totals in his previous 19 games and being made a healthy scratch for another one.
Brendan Gallagher has only one goal in his last 19 games. Pacioretty had one goal in seven games before scoring twice Sunday against the Kings for his first multi-goal game of the season after being put back on the No. 1 line. Now it looks like Desharnais will find himself back as the Canadiens’ regular No. 1 centre.
Despite the offensive struggles by some of their key players, the Canadiens still ranked eighth in the NHL in scoring through Sunday’s games with an average of 2.92 goals per game. But it will be difficult to continue that pace without Galchenyuk, who was leading the team in scoring with 9-14-23 totals and had developed a fantastic chemistry with Radulov, who ranks second on the team with 5-16-21 totals. Defenceman Shea Weber has eight goals, but only one in his last nine games.
Galchenyuk was in 13th place in the NHL scoring race through Sunday’s games, only one point out of the top 10. The Canadiens haven’t had a player finish in the top 10 in NHL scoring since Mats Naslund in 1985-86.
Think about that.
The Canadiens still have a healthy Carey Price, who gives them a legitimate chance to win every game. When Price suffered his season-ending knee injury last Nov. 25, the Canadiens also described it as a lower-body injury and coach Michel Therrien said the goalie would be “out for a week.”
Think about that, too.
This doesn’t look good for Galchenyuk or the Canadiens unless Plekanec and some other players can start finding the net when it’s on the ice.