Cross Checks: Tomas Plekanec
FIRST STAR – TOMAS PLEKANEC, C, MONTREAL CANADIENS
Plekanec tied for the League lead with four goals (4-1—5), helping the Canadiens pick up a trio of road wins to open the season with a 3-0-0 record for the first time since 2005-06. He began the season with two goals, including the game-winner with 42.9 seconds remaining in regulation, in a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Oct. 8. Plekanec then scored Montreal’s lone regulation goal in a 2-1 shootout win over the Washington Capitals Oct. 9. He closed the week with 1-1—2 in a 4-3 shootout victory over the Philadelphia Flyers Oct. 11, marking his first three-game goal streak since Oct. 25-29, 2010 (3-1—4). The 31-year-old Kladno, Czech Republic, native is playing in his 10th full NHL season and has compiled 180-264—444 over 682 regular-season games.
SECOND STAR – DARCY KUEMPER, G, MINNESOTA WILD
Kuemper stopped all 46 shots he faced in helping the Wild become the fifth team since 1943-44 to begin a season with consecutive shutouts (a feat also accomplished last week by the San Jose Sharks). He recorded 16 saves in a 5-0 triumph over the Colorado Avalanche Oct. 9 and then completed the home-and-home sweep with 30 stops in a 3-0 win Oct. 11. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 24-year-old Saskatoon, Sask., native is the youngest goaltender in NHL history to post shutouts in each of his team’s first two games of a season. A sixth-round pick (161st overall) by the Wild in the 2009 NHL Draft, Kuemper has a 15-10-4 record with a 2.22 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and four shutouts in 34 career regular-season appearances.
THIRD STAR – SIDNEY CROSBY, C, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Crosby shared the League lead with six points (3-3—6) and four power-play points (2-2—4) in lifting the Penguins to a pair of victories to open the season. He posted 2-1—3 in a 6-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks Oct. 9, marking his third consecutive home opener with a goal and stretching his career totals in home openers to 7-6—13 (9 GP). Crosby then added 1-2—3 in a 5-2 triumph over the Toronto Maple Leafs Oct. 11. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first Penguins player to record at least three points in each of the team’s first two games of a season since 1995-96, when Ron Francis, Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux each did so. The reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner, Crosby has compiled 277-498—775 in 552 regular-season games since being selected first overall by the Penguins in the 2005 NHL Draft.
TORONTO -- If you believe in symbolism on opening night, the Montreal Canadiens couldn't have scripted any better.
All four goals were scored by alternate captains -- the sport's most iconic franchise going without an actual captain this season, a decision that wasn't universally well-received in the hockey-crazed market.
It fueled a common talking point all training camp long: with the offseason departures of captain Brian Gionta, vocal assistant Josh Gorges and respected veteran Daniel Briere, among others, would the young Habs overcome the leadership void?
It's only one night, of course, but the alternate captains made one heck of a statement in Wednesday's 4-3 thriller over the host Toronto Maple Leafs: Max Pacioretty scored 4:42 into the season on a beauty of a rush that left Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf in his wake; Tomas Plekanec had a pair of goals on a night where he was an absolute beast, from the penalty kill to his 59 percent success rate in the faceoff circle; and P.K. Subban scored a big third-period goal and was electric all night long.
The fourth alternate captain, veteran Andrei Markov, was solid as well in leading the team with a game-high 26:17 minutes while helping to shut down Phil Kessel.
Who needs a captain when your four alternates play like that, right?
"Good call by the coaches, I guess, by management," smiled Plekanec, whose bank-shot goal with 43 seconds left gave Montreal the win.
Plekanec was a man possessed, easily the best player on either team, as reflected by being named the game’s first star. The Leafs could barely touch the puck when his line with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher was on the ice.
It's a reminder of just how important Plekanec remains on this team, despite the obvious growth plan of this team around the younger core.
The 31-year-old Czech center could easily have deserved the captaincy on his own. But he'd be the last guy to complain.
"Obviously, it's a great honor when you're talking about the captain of the Montreal Canadiens," said Plekanec. "Being in Montreal so long, I guess, a lot of people saw me as a top candidate. But I think they made a good call by going with the four A's. We'll figure it out next year."
Another key leader on this team, stud goalie Carey Price, had an interesting answer when asked by ESPN.com after his media scrum following Wednesday's game who was one of the more vocal players in the room between periods in the opening game.
"Manny, for sure, Manny Malhotra," said the Olympic champion goaltender.
The 34-year-old newcomer didn't get an "A" on his uniform, but it's clear from Price's comments that Malhotra will also have a major role to play in helping feel that leadership void.
But the most pleasing sight for the head coach? Michel Therrien, when asked about his alternate captains, directed his heaviest praise for one particular player.
"I thought P.K. was really good. He [made the] right decisions, jumped in the play at the right time. That's a good sign of maturity," Therrien said. "This is what we’re looking for with his game. He looked like a real quarterback for us tonight."
Playing in his first game since signing an eight-year, $72 million contract during the offseason, Subban looked carefree and
confident as he dangled in and out of traffic and controlled large moments of the game.
Looks like the $9 million man is going to be all right.
"Our attention to detail, just paying attention to the details in our structure, I thought guys did it well," Subban said of his team's game, deflecting individual praise. "And the times we didn't do it, there were guys on the bench letting guys know, saying, 'Hey, you've got to be better.' I said it at the start of the year: We need 22 leaders, not four. Today it seemed like there was no passengers on our team. Everybody was held accountable, and everybody was holding themselves accountable and doing what they're supposed to do."
If you're looking for signs of a young team responding to adversity, what better example than the Canadiens coming right back 96 seconds after the Leafs tied the game 3-3 on a fluky goal by getting one of their own bank goals to win it.
There were no evident signs of panic, despite the bedlam at Air Canada Centre when Morgan Rielly's goal tied it late for the Leafs.
"We're a resilient group in here," Subban said. "It doesn't surprise me that we came right back. We know how important the first shift is after you score a goal and after you give up a goal. I'm happy with the way our team played today."
Kozun, Percy impress
Leafs rookie Brandon Kozun did not look out of place in his first NHL game, using his speed and getting his first NHL point when his shot from the slot was redirected by Nazem Kadri.
"I would've felt better if we won the game," Kozun said of getting his first NHL point. "I think I can be better," he added of his overall game.
"I don’t know, I just don't think I had as much jump as I usually have."
The kid's being hard on himself; I didn't think he was too bad at all.
Blueliner Stuart Percy also looked good in his first NHL game, showing poise with the puck. He’s not flashy, but he makes good decisions.
"I thought Percy was very good," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. "He plays well above his age. I thought that he, not only on the goal, but the way that he moves the puck out of our zone, the patience that he has ... he's a really good player for a young guy coming into the league. I think he showed that he's a very mature player, especially coming out of the defensive zone moving the puck and having the patience to do that. It’s not easy to do that in this league."
Tokarski goes Thursday
Therrien said backup netminder Dustin Tokarski would start Thursday night's game in Washington as the Habs open with back-to-back games.
- Daniel Alfredsson expects to be locked out for a “period of time,” but he still fully supports the NHLPA. “Even if this would turn out to be a whole season and I wouldn’t play again, that’s fine with me. I’m just a small piece of the puzzle. But I’d love to play again.” (Ottawa Citizen)
- The Ducks’ Sheldon Souray, going through his third work stoppage, said it would “be utter stupidity and craziness to lose another full season. … Guys are going to lose careers over this. Players are doing what’s right and we feel that for sure. We have a vision and we’re prepared to stick with it.” (Montreal Gazette)
- Olli Jokinen said he honestly was never optimistic the season would start on time and doesn’t think there are many players who were. “If we miss one game this season, I think it’s a shame, with what the players went through, what the fans went through and what the owners went through seven years ago with missing the whole year,” Jokinen said. (Winnipeg Free Press)
- Vincent Lecavalier is getting frustrated by the lockout. “The numbers are showing the league is healthy and since 2004 the league has been better and better each year. There is no reason, I think, that they should put us in a lockout.” (The Tampa Tribune)
- The Flames’ Jiri Hudler was released by the KHL’s Lev Prague to rehab an abdominal muscle injury. (The Calgary Herald)
- Tomas Plekanec has scored seven goals and assisted on seven more in just seven games with the HC Kladno Knights. (Montreal Gazette)
- Ilya Kovalchuk scored his first goal for SKA St. Pertersburg on Wednesday in his team’s 3-2 shootout victory over HC Neftekhimik. (The Star-Ledger)
- A small group remains practicing in South Florida, paying $350 an hour to rent the ice at the Panthers’ facility. (Miami Herald)
- Several financial planners said most players learned from history to prepare early for a potential lockout and are in much better financial condition to survive a prolonged time without a pay check. (The Globe and Mail)
- Some locked-out players from the Vancouver Canucks will play the UBC Thunderbirds in a charity game. (The Vancouver Sun)
- Jason Jaffray was cleared for full contact by doctors after going through spinal fusion neck surgery on April 18 after taking a check-from-behind in a game in late March. (Winnipeg Sun)
- Leland Irving spent the summer sharing goaltending duties with Carey Price and James Reimer, while facing Jarome Iginla, Shea Weber, Josh Gorges and Cody Franson – a group that made the hour commute well worth it, according to the young goalie. (The Calgary Herald)
- A day after yet another loss, which ignited calls for the firing of head coach Ron Wilson, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke says a change behind the bench was not in the cards.
"I’m not contemplating a coaching change," Burke told ESPN.com.
The Leafs are winless in four games (0-3-1) and have won only once in nine games (1-7-1), outscored 35-17 during stretch, to slide out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Burke went on TSN radio in Toronto on Wednesday and suggested the Leafs would look at what’s out there on the goalie trade market, given the struggles of Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer.
But Burke, as of 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday, said nothing was imminent on the trade front.
While Burke refused to discuss specific names, sources confirm the Leafs have talked to Columbus about Rick Nash but my sense is that they were not close on that front.
On the goalie front, it’s believed Toronto has interest in Evgeni Nabokov, but Isles GM Garth Snow told ESPNNewYork.com’s Katie Strang on Sunday that he was not looking to move the UFA-to-be netminder. The Isles and Nabokov’s agent, Don Meehan, have discussed a contract extension over the past week.
As I reported earlier this past week, the Edmonton Oilers and Leafs have also chatted about Nikolai Khabibulin but my sense is that Toronto isn’t keen on that extra year on the goalie’s contract.
- The Boston Bruins are still hoping to add both a forward and a defenseman. A source told ESPN.com on Sunday that B’s have interest in Daniel Winnik, T.J. Galiardi and David Jones -- all three Colorado Avalanche forwards are very much in play. Winnik and Jones are UFAs July 1 while Galiardi is an RFA July 1. The Bruins have interest in possibly dealing for one of them.
- The Winnipeg Jets are in the thick of the playoff race, so they have to be careful with what they’re going to do. I was told Sunday by a source that Johnny Oduya was getting the most traction. No surprise there, he’s a UFA July 1 and would be a good rental pickup for a contender.
- Still no contract extension for Ryan Smyth (UFA July 1) in Edmonton. Talks began Thursday. It’s worth keeping an eye on. Teams like Detroit, Boston and the Rangers have shown interest in adding Smyth but the veteran winger and the Oilers agreed two weeks ago that he would stay put. In return, though, you can’t blame Smyth for likely wanting to get an extension done to give him some security. Look for it to be a two-year deal if it gets done.
- The Minnesota Wild were taking calls this weekend, of course, on goalie Josh Harding, a UFA on July 1. If Ben Bishop netted a second-round pick, Harding should garner a better asset given his NHL experience.
- There was twitter buzz Sunday that Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec was willing to waive his no-trade clause. False, as it turns out.
"I’ve never had a conversation or discussion with [GM] Pierre Gauthier and Montreal regarding a need to address his no-trade clause," Plekanec’s veteran agent, Rick Curran, told ESPN.com on Sunday. "He’s never broached the topic. I had dinner with Tomas last night, as well as Tomas Kaberle, and never once did we ever discuss a trade or anything like that. It’s not an issue whatsoever."
Plekanec is in the second season of a $30 million, six-year contract.
- With teams looking to add goaltending depth, Islanders netminder Evgeni Nabokov has generated some interest as Monday's deadline looms, but he does not appear to be on the block.
"I'm not looking to move him," GM Garth Snow told ESPNNewYork.com's Katie Strang via text message Sunday.
- It’s been a tough few days for the playoff-hopeful Calgary Flames, as they were pounded 6-1 by Edmonton and then lost to Phoenix and Philadelphia in the shootout after leading in both those games.
Still, as of Sunday, the Flames were just one point out of eighth place and GM Jay Feaster was holding to his playoffs-or-bust mentality.
Feaster said Sunday that he has no intention of moving top center Olli Jokinen, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"I’ve already met with Olli and told him I am not moving him. I told him I’m not shopping him, and when I do receive calls I tell them he is NOT in play," Feaster said in an email message Sunday.
“We also discussed focusing on getting into the playoffs and then discussing a new deal postseason. He is totally on-side with all of that,” Feaster said.
Jokinen leads the Flames with 50 points.
As for trying to move other assets, Feaster isn’t planning to make any alterations to his roster. In fact, he is hoping to get injured players David Moss, Blair Jones and Chris Butler back in the next two to three weeks.
“We feel our destiny remains in our own hands,” Feaster said.
Stock UpAles Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers: Is the talented Hemsky heating up at just the right time for the Oil to cash him in for some more assets moving forward? Hemsky, who has skill to burn but has had trouble staying healthy, has four goals and six assists in his last seven games. Hmmm. Think L.A. GM Dean Lombardi has noticed? What about Pierre Gauthier in Montreal?
Matt Moulson, New York Islanders: We spend a lot of time hammering the Islanders for their various faux pas, but there are lots of interesting things happening on Long Island, including the high-end work of big forward Moulson. Kudos to GM Garth Snow for getting Moulson under contract as opposed to trading him -- something that had been rumored earlier in the season. Moulson has rewarded the Isles' faith in the form of a three-year contract extension with eight goals and three assists in his last eight games.
Stock DownBrian Boyle, New York Rangers: Boyle has been one of the surprising bright lights for the Rangers this season, chipping in 19 goals from the center position, a thin spot for the boys from Gotham. But Boyle's production has slowed of late with just one goal in his last 10 games. No coincidence that the Rangers have also found points hard to come by in the standings.
Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens: Plekanec remains the Habs' leading scorer by a wide margin but will need to get back on track to keep the Canadiens pointed in the right direction. Plekanec has just one goal and three assists in his last nine games. Lack of production from him and the team's top line puts additional pressure on a banged-up defense and netminder Carey Price.
- Neuvirth stopped 29 shots for his first NHL shutout and the Capitals spoiled the Hurricanes' first game on home ice. Capitals 3, Hurricanes 0 »
- Niclas Bergfors had a goal and an assist and the Thrashers stopped the Rangers' winning streak at three games. Thrashers 6, Rangers 4»
- Plekanec and Jeff Halpern each had a goal and an assist as the Canadiens extended their winning streak to three. Canadiens 5, Islanders 3 »
- St. Louis scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third and added a late empty-netter to help Tampa Bay win. Lightning 5, Penguins 3 »
- Marty Turco made 33 saves, and Viktor Stalberg scored the deciding goal to help the Blackhawks snap a two-game losing streak. Blackhawks 3, Kings 1 »
- Joe Thornton had his fourth career hat trick and added two assists in the Sharks' victory over the slumping Devils. Sharks 5, Devils 2 »
Editor's note: There's the March 3 trade deadline, and then there's the Olympic roster freeze that runs from Feb. 12-28. Between now and Feb. 12, ESPN.com's Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun will look at 10 potential trade baits and which teams have a chance to land some much-needed help.
Halak, Price and Plekanec
Scott Burnside: Hello, Pierre. Big news out of Montreal on Monday, with general manager Bob Gainey stepping down and Pierre Gauthier taking over immediately while Gainey stays on as an adviser. Gauthier has a few issues right away, including what to do with his goaltending situation. Jaroslav Halak, the current if nominal starter, could be a restricted free agent in July. And then there's Tomas Plekanec, one of the team's top forwards, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. So, what do you do? Swing a deal? Add talent in the hopes you can go on a long playoff run? Never easy answers in Montreal.
Pierre LeBrun: Well, I think Gauthier showed his hand when it came to his two goalies, Halak and Carey Price.
"We have two very strong, young goaltenders, and they've been a very big part of our team this year," Gauthier said at his news conference Monday. "They give us a chance to win every night. That's a very important thing in a very close league.
"We believe that we can go forward with these two young men, and that's our best chance to get into the playoffs this year. That's a strong position, and we'd like to keep it strong."
So the Habs' plan would seem fairly straightforward for now, unless of course someone knocks their socks off for either goalie. And let's remember the history here. From what a source close to the situation told me, it's not so much that Halak asked for a trade per se earlier this season; he wanted a chance to become a No. 1 goalie, whether it was in Montreal or elsewhere. Gainey, at the time, would have told Halak's agent, Allan Walsh, that Price was the team's No. 1 goalie. So, it left the Halak camp feeling as if the Czech netminder needed to be traded. That's all history for now, with Halak taking over the No. 1 job at this point. I can't imagine how Montreal could deal him now. He has saved the Habs' season.
Burnside: True. I guess the issue moving forward is how you resolve the issue if you really believe Price is the goalie of the future. I'm sure Gauthier will be loath to see Halak walk away July 1 (offer sheet?) and then win 40 games in Dallas or somewhere else, especially if Price continues to struggle with his development. Not suggesting he should move either one, but it's an issue that isn't going away.
Now, if you're Gauthier and you want to put your imprint on the team, do you add a big body up front for a playoff run or shore up the blue line? Or do you look at this team and accept it's likely a seventh or eighth seed, hang on to your young assets and see what happens in the offseason? You know how impatient Montreal fans are, especially after getting waxed by Boston in the first round last season.
LeBrun: What's also interesting in the goalie debate, which is all the rage in Montreal, is what impact a new sheriff will have. Gainey was a huge Price backer. Gauthier? It remains to be seen. I know Price was on the phone with his agent, Gerry Johannson, in the wake of Monday's news. But as Johannson relayed to me Monday night, the kid was cool as a cucumber, as usual. He doesn't get too rattled, and despite not playing much lately, he's not in a snit over it.
"Carey is really happy in Montreal," Johannson told me. "We respect that the Canadiens have smart guys running things, and we know that there's a time and a place for us to have a discussion, and that's in the offseason. Right now, they're doing what they think they need to do to win, and that's OK."
There have been no contract talks with the camps of either goalie. That will be a summer issue. And what a big one. They're both in for raises. That's when I think you'll see a trade.
Burnside: So, if you keep both goalies through the March 3 deadline -- and I agree, it seems like the prudent thing to do -- what do you do with Plekanec? He's a good player and leads the Habs with 58 points. But can you realistically sign him long-term with big contracts already in place for Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Mike Cammalleri? And if you can't keep him, do you move him knowing he'd be a top rental before March 3? Ultimately, in terms of an asset like Plekanec, I guess Gauthier has to decide what the probability is for the Habs to go on a deep playoff run (modest at best, I think). What would you do, my friend?
LeBrun: Well, I know there was a meeting, very quietly, in late January between Gauthier and Plekanec's agent, Rick Curran.
"We had a lengthy discussion, at which time they expressed a desire to keep Tomas, and our response was that Tomas would be interested in that as well," Curran told me Tuesday morning. "We have a mutual interest in Tomas' staying in Montreal. He was drafted by them, and that would be his preference, to stay in Montreal."
But it won't be easy. There's not a lot of cap room to play with. That $7.3 million cap hit for Gomez over the next four-and-a-half years ... mercy. The wrong center is making money in Montreal. And that's why in the end, Scotty, moving Halak or Price makes sense not only because both of them want to be No. 1 goalies but also because they can't afford raises for both goalies and keep Plekanec. Until tomorrow, my friend.
• You also can get up-to-the-minute trade discussion in Rumor Central.