Center Of Attention: Manny Malhotra

Courtesy: Francois Lacasse, Getty Images

Courtesy: Francois Lacasse, Getty Images

Cases have been made one way or the other in regards to various aspects of the Montreal Canadiens upsides and downsides but one that was made an undeniable fact in recent times was their inability in the faceoff circle.  Oftentimes sitting in or around the bottom of the league standings, something had to be done in order to maintain success as a unit competing in a league geared towards the importance of possession.


Going back to the shortened season, 24CH documented Carey Price and others explaining to P.K. Subban that Michel Therrien had brought a number of changes to the team and the system within which they played, citing specifically that everything became different off the draw.  It often goes overlooked but it has won and lost games since the beginning of the game itself and no one in the National Hockey League to date wins in this particular area like Manny Malhotra.


Upon being signed over this past off season, Marc Bergevin wasted no time and made no bones about acquiring Manny Malhotra in hopes of improving an undebatable downside in his team’s game.  Not only does Malhotra do his job individually but his skills and knowledge as the current (and usual) league leader with a 60.9% and winning 445 of 731 draws taken thus far this season but the impact has been noticed throughout the lineup by bringing the Canadiens closer towards the middle of the pack in current faceoff standings.


For a team that has faced as great an obstacle as they have in frequently icing the puck, a guy like this is a must have.


The truth is that Malhotra could come on for the faceoff, win the draw, skate straight back to the bench to change off and he would earn himself a pat on the back.  However, being that Michel Therrien seems to enjoy playing older players and cutting time on the ice from the top of the order to preserve his more prolific players, does Manny Malhotra perhaps see too much time on the ice?


It’s been a rare occurrence in which Malhotra has lost a draw, particularly a critical one.  However, in the event that he does, that essentially removes his entire game.  With just one assist in 46 games played, he is not on board to put anything on the board so to speak but he is also not expected to.


Like a number of 4th liners, Manny also is not about to find himself wowing anyone in regards to fancy stats.  Not known for physical domination or very much else, Manny finds himself in a sentiment with a narrative that would read something to the tune of being a less expensive Travis Moen that is particularly skilled on the dot but nowhere else.


A lot of teams would find themselves better positioned for success if their fourth liners were specialists in any given area such as Malhotra with faceoffs.  However, anyone following the old Adam Foote rule identifies three aspects of their game in which they are particularly proficient, does those three things and only those three things; Manny sits at a cool one, albeit better than none.


With that in mind, if he has impacted this team from the top to the bottom of the lineup as much as he has in improving in one previous downfall as much as he has (and having had this team even higher in faceoff standings earlier this season, hopefully reaching such points again as the season progresses) then has he perhaps fulfilled his usefulness already? If so and there is no such job title as “faceoff coach” then perhaps it should be created with him in mind for life after hockey.


This question begs to be asked due to the plethora of options that this team possesses, namely down the middle.  With Lars Eller currently looking as though he will be on the shelf for some amount of time this would imply further solidification of Manny’s spot –and so perhaps it should– but with Gabriel Dumont looking impressive in his showings thus far on the main roster, this creates a direct competition for a center spot and Dumont’s opposition, if on the fourth line, would be task suitable for a kid fresh up from the Hamilton Bulldogs.


As soon as youth and potential become an option, everyone in Montreal with the exception of Michel Therrien salivates instantly with optimism.  The reason for this is because this team finds itself riddled with prospects in a considerably deep pool.  The thought that Dumont could find him on the wing would be possible if not for Christian Thomas showcasing an undeniable determination to stay with the big boys, Jacob De La Rose being called up, Sven Andrighetto’s impressive showing before an undeserved bus ticket back to Hamilton and others waiting in the wings.


The microscope takes a progressively closer look as a team ventures closer and closer towards contendership.  With this team this close, considered to be buyers as the trade deadline looms in the not-too-distant future, spots must be solidified and decisions must be made, not just by management but by the players that they say make their decisions for them.


What decision has been made for management by Malhotra? It looks to say something to the tune of: “I belong here and my job will become increasingly more vital from now until June but if I could play just a little bit less than I am now or even just catch a break or two in offensive output, all should be swell.”


If Manny’s got only one good eye, hopefully he’s using it to look through a sniper’s scope at the Stanley Cup with the intent of succeeding in what he came so close to doing in 2011.


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