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Canadiens Game Day: Tomas Plekanec scores in his 1,000th NHL game

Canadiens Game Day is a new feature this season in which we will follow the Habs during every home game from the morning skate in Brossard through the post-game interviews at the Bell Centre, updating throughout the day with all the news, quotes, notes and opinion you’re looking for:

Tomas Plekanec played in his 1,000th NHL regular-season game when the Canadiens faced the Detroit Red Wings Monday night at the Bell Centre and scored a goal in the first period.

After Jonathan Drouin gave the Canadiens a 1-0 lead when he scored at 7:13 of the first period on a penalty shot, Plekanec made it 2-0 at 16:56 when he tried to pass the puck in front from behind the net and it went in off the stick of Red Wings defenceman Filip Hronek behind goalie Jimmy Howard. Andreas Athanasiou scored for the Red Wings at 17:24 and then Tomas Tatar replied for the Canadiens at 19:51 with the Habs taking a 3-1 lead into the first intermission. It was the first goals of the season for Drouin and Plekanec and the third for Tatar.

The 35-year-old Plekanec, who re-signed with the Canadiens this summer after being dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs at last season’s NHL trade deadline, was a healthy scratch for the first three games this season, making his season debut in Saturday night’s 4-3 shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Plekanec was honoured on the giant screen at the Bell Centre during a break in play early in the first period and was greeted by a standing ovation.

“It’s special,” Plekanec said about the milestone after the Canadiens’ morning skate Monday in Brossard. “I would never dream of it as a kid. It’s something that you wouldn’t think about getting to this point. It’s more for the people behind the scenes and my family that got me through the career. I’m the one playing, but trainers that got me through the games I was hurt and I wouldn’t be playing otherwise. My family, my teammates where I had games where I wasn’t really too good and my teammates helped me out to get through those games.

“Being here (in Montreal) at this moment is special, too,” he added. “I really feel privileged to be part of this organization for so many years.”

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin signed Plekanec as a free agent this summer to a one-year contract worth US$3.5 million.

The Canadiens selected Plekanec in the third round (71st overall) at the 2001 NHL Draft after he posted 9-9-18 totals in 47 games with Kladno in the Czech league. He played his first NHL game on Dec. 31, 2003 in Dallas when the Canadiens tied the Stars 1-1. Plekanec, wearing No. 35 for the game, along with his trademark turtleneck, was filling in for the injured Saku Koivu and was held pointless in 10:40 of ice time.

When asked what he remembers about that first game, Plekanec said: “Nothing much. I know it was the first game in Dallas, but nothing much.”

In his first 999 career games, Plekanec has 232 goals and 375 assists for 607 points. His most productive season was in 2009-10 when he posted 25-45-70 totals.

Plekanec becomes the 324th player in NHL history to play in 1,000 games.

When asked to describe Plekanec’s new role with the team this season, coach Claude Julien said: “He’s a veteran. He knows where he is in his career. I think we have a young team … we need guys like Tomas to come in and give us that experience when he’s dressed on the ice. If there’s some times where he’s not, he’s certainly a guy that’s been helping players on the ice during practice and we’ve seen that with (Jesperi) Kotkaniemi. But he’s done that with (Artturi) Lehkonen. When Lehkonen first came in, Pleky’s the one that really took him under his wing. So he’s been great that way.

“He’s a real pro,” the coach added. “You need guys like that in your room. Guys that are also respected for who they are and what they stand for and he’s certainly one of those guys.”

Antti Niemi made his second straight start in goal for the Canadiens Monday night against the Red Wings.

Niemi made 25 saves (and two more in the shootout) in Saturday night’s win over the Penguins after Carey Price was sidelined with the flu. Price took part in Monday’s morning skate and will back up Niemi against the Red Wings.

“Carey hasn’t skated in three days, so you don’t give him a morning skate and throw him in the lineup,” Julien said after the morning skate. “That’s one thing. The other thing, I think Niemi deserves to be in this game tonight. It’s the right decision on both sides of the coin.”

Jimmy Howard started in goal for the Red Wings. He had an 0-1-2 record with a 2.90 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage coming into the game.

Andrew Shaw didn’t take part in the morning skate and wasn’t in the lineup against the Red Wings because of the same flu bug that hit Price.

“It’s going through the team right now,” Julien said. “It’s a flu bug that’s just been draining players out. We’re dealing with that right now, so hopefully we’re going see some progress in that area and minimize that stuff soon.”

Here’s how the lines and defence pairings looked at Monday’s morning skate:

Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Domi – Lehkonen
Byron- Kotkaniemi – Armia
Hudon – Plekanec – Peca
Deslauriers – De la Rose – Scherbak

Mete – Petry
Reilly – Juulsen
Ouellet – Benn

The Canadiens have a 2-1-1 record, while the Red Wings are still looking for their first win after getting off to an 0-3-2 start.

The Canadiens have three players averaging a point per game to start the season: Paul Byron (2-2-4), Tomas Tatar (2-2-4) and Jeff Petry (0-4-4). Three players have three points: Brendan Gallagher (2-1-3), Artturi Lehkonen (1-2-3) and Max Domi (0-3-3).

Dylan Larkin leads the Red Wings in scoring with 3-2-5 totals, followed by Tyler Bertuzzi (2-2-4), Gustav Nuyquist (0-4-4) and Nick Jensen (2-1-3).

The Canadiens rank 22nd in the NHL on the power play with an 11.8 per cent success rate and rank 10th in penalty-killing at 81.8 per cent. The Red Wings rank eighth on the power play at 26.7 per cent and 14th in penalty-killing at 78.9 per cent.

The Canadiens are the worst team in the NHL on faceoffs, winning only 43.3 per cent of their draws, while the Red Wings rank 22nd at 48.7 per cent.

The Red Wings had an incredible steak of making the NHL playoffs for 25 straight years before missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

Their winless start after five games will bring back memories of Detroit’s Deat Things era. In the 13 seasons before the Red Wings left the old Olympia rink for Joe Louis Arena in December 1979, they made the playoffs only twice, winning a total of three post-season games. They also missed the playoffs in each of their first four seasons at Joe Louis Arena.

Julien warned his players before Monday night’s game not to look at where the Dead Things — I mean Red Wings — are in the standings.

“We got a pre-scout ready,” Julien said. “They’re going to see that there’s a team on the other side that’s not playing that bad. They’re quick, they’re young as well. They’re energetic. And anybody who doesn’t respect them is going to end up with a big surprise. What I’m saying is don’t look at the standings because the standings don’t give them the credit that they probably deserve. And they’re a better team than what it’s showing in the standings right now.”

The Red Wings had five rookies in their opening-night lineup this season when they lost 3-2 in overtime to the Columbus Blue Jackets — forwards Christopher Ehn and Michael Rasmussen, along with defencemen Dennis Cholowski, Filip Hronek and Libor Sulak. It marked the first time since the 1985-86 season that the Red Wings had five or more players make their NHL debut in the same game.

The Penguins announced that forward Justin Schultz is expected to be out for four months after having surgery on Sunday to repair a fracture in his lower left leg suffered during Saturday night’s game at the Bell Centre when he was checked into the boards by Plekanec and fell awkwardly.

Warning: You might not want to watch this video:

Lars Eller was one of my favourite players to interview when he was with the Canadiens. He’s very intelligent and always gave thoughtful answers to questions, rarely if ever speaking in clichés.

So you have to love what Eller said about the Maple Leafs (especially if you’re already fed up with the Toronto media hype) after his Capitals lost 4-2 to them Saturday night in Washington.

“We were just playing against (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, so everything kind of drops off from there,” Eller told Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post. “It’s not that special, to be honest. It’s a good team, like a lot of others.

“They’ll probably be a playoff team.”

The Leafs had a 5-1-0 record heading into Monday night’s game against the Los Angeles Kings in Toronto and were averaging 4.83 goals per game. The Leafs’ Auston Matthews was leading the NHL in scoring with 10-4-14 totals, one point ahead of teammate Morgan Rielly (3-10-13). The Leafs’ John Tavares was fifth in the NHL scoring race with 6-4-10 totals and teammate Mitch Marner was sixth with 3-7-10.

Eller scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Capitals last season.

The Canadiens will practise at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Brossard as they prepare to face the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., SN1, RDS, TSN 690 Radio). After that, the Canadiens will have a two-day break in the NHL schedule before facing the Ottawa Senators on Saturday (7 p.m., CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).