Sunday, November 21, 2010

Aftermath: Fun and Games

If there's one thing more enjoyable than beating the leafs, it's shutting them out. And if there's one thing more enjoyable than that, it's having the insurance goal hand delivered by Komisarek. That pass to Cammalleri was the best one he's made since signing in Toronto.

Okay, it's probably tempting fate to laugh so hard at that because, if there's any sure thing in hockey, it's that the breaks even out. Watching the way the leafs performed last night, though, it could take a while for that to happen. The Canadiens looked like they were on the power play for most of the night and scored the only time they actually were up a man. It was the finest display of puck possession the team has put on all season. The only thing that prevented a complete blowout was Jonas Gustavsson's stellar play. The kid's performance was rivalled only by Carey Price's perfection at the other end.

In a 2-0 game, you know just about everyone contributed in some way. To paraphrase George Orwell, however, some winners were more equal than others. Hal Gill played his best game since last May. Perhaps it was in honour of his old coach, Pat Burns, or maybe it was a bit of payback for the season-opening loss. Whatever motivated him last night, Gill was great. He used his super-long stick to its best advantage and played a smart, well-positioned defense that drove Phil Kessel crazy. And as Kessel goes, so does the leaf offence.

Lars Eller is getting better with every game. He set up Yannick Weber on a gorgeous cross-ice feed reminiscent of the kind of pass Plekanec makes every night. Brian Gionta looked inspired, playing a solid two-way game that would have made Burnsie proud. Andrei Kostitsyn showed signs of life for the first time since being removed from the Plekanec line and matched with Scott Gomez.

Ah, yes, Gomez. At the quarter mark of the season the seven-million dollar man is on pace for a career-low 24 points. Twenty-four. That's not good enough for a third-line centre, never mind the guy who's supposed to be sharing the bulk of the team's scoring responsibility. His two goals aren't even the biggest concern. Gomez typically racks up most of his points in assists, and he's got only four in 20 games, putting him on a pace for 16 over the season. That's a far cry from the 45-50 he usually gets. The team is winning, despite Gomez' failure to contribute, but with Markov gone indefinitely, the Canadiens can't afford to have an asset as valuable as Gomez doing nothing.

It's not even the lack of production that's so worrisome. It's the way he's not producing. When Brian Gionta was slumping earlier in the year, you knew it was only a matter of time before he broke out. He was going to the net and shooting a ton of rubber, so sooner or later, something was going to go in for him. Gomez is a different story. He's just playing a very out-of-synch style. He's passing when he should shoot, shooting when he should pass, rushing to nowhere and making low-percentage plays into traffic. With most players, you'd assume there's a big confidence problem, but Gomez is one of the cockiest guys around.

Part of the issue is probably the fact that Gomez lives off his assists. That means someone has to be finishing his setups. The chances of Tom Pyatt, Max Lapierre or Travis Moen...good soldiers all...doing that are so slim they're bordering on anorexic. Gomez needs wingers who can score, but his play is so disjointed, he's not clicking with even the better of them. It's no coincidence that Gionta and Kostitsyn both produced better with Plekanec than Gomez.

The positive side of this is another win means another day of reprieve for Gomez. There's always a chance the next game is the one in which he finds an answer. While the team is winning, the pressure is minimized. It'll be different if losses start to mount and he's still not performing, but for now he's still got time.

And we've got least for enjoy a beautiful, satisfying win. It couldn't have been better.


moeman said...

J.T., you gorgeous wordsmith, never did I ever think I'd see the word anorexic in a hockey comment. I bow in your presence.

punkster said...

I hope people eventually chill out over the slow start Gomez is experiencing. Stuff happens. Given his history the points will come in due time.