Scott Gomez was first star last night, and deservedly so. It was Tibb's Eve, and it was his birthday; two reasons why he should get a nice gift. People will say he's a slow starter and he's finally warming up, and that's why he's playing better all of a sudden. That's not the secret, though. Max Pacioretty is.
If you watch video of Gomez, you'll see a pattern emerge. He breaks out of his own zone at top speed, cuts through the middle like a chainsaw through saplings and crosses the other team's blueline with the puck. Then, he finds himself alone in enemy territory and he almost always drifts wide left. The unfortunate effect of that is he's usually ahead of his left winger. That means the only option he's got on that side is a drop pass, which hardly ever works. The difference Pacioretty makes is profound. He goes to the net aggressively on every rush, and he's fast enough to match Gomez' pace. As a result, Gomez can continue his habitual left-side drift and it now gives him an option to pass to the crease, and he's still got the right-wing possibility with Gionta. That's why the line is working and it seems that Gomez is suddenly emerging from his funk. It's not quite that simple. Gomez is actually playing the same game he always plays. It's just that now, he's got two compatible linemates, one of whom compensates for his biggest weakness.
So that's that line worked out. As for the first, well, Jacques the Knife managed to figure out that if he wants Kostitsyn to work, he puts him with Plekanec. Otherwise, he's useless. He got back on the Plekanec line last night and he showed his first-round talent again. We have to accept he's never going to be consistent, but we get the best out of him when he's got a smart, creative centre.
Eller is better than the scrubs he's playing with, but he's a kid. The good thing is, he knows he's a kid and he's just glad to be there. It's refreshing to see a kid like that, who's got no attitude about his line or his ice time. He's just there to learn, and he will. He's showing some great things so far, and he'll sort out the other stuff as he goes.
The PP came through when it really counted. Two goals during the 'Canes major for boarding was more than we've seen all year, and it made the difference.
Carey Price is the difference in every game this year. If he plays well, the Habs have a pretty good chance of winning. If he's only good, they lose most of the time. That's a lot of pressure, but the young man is showing he likes it. It just gets a bit scary when he gets bored and goes for long skates, handling the puck. Overall, he's an excellent goalie who's fulfilling his first-round promise.
Josh Gorges is certainly playing hurt, and one might ask why that's allowed to happen. He's a very valuable shut-down guy, but if he's hurt he's not doing his job. He's giving the puck away, he's having trouble keeping up with the puck carrier and he's in difficulty in the corners. He needs to rest his injury, whatever it is, and let Subban and Weber try to help out. Now is the time to look after Gorges because in the stretch he won't be able to rest.
The Habs, despite the win, still display a worrisome lack of finish. They had many chances in the crease last night that would have been goals if better players had had them. That's something they have to work on.
Overall, it was a good win on a night when the Habs really needed one. This season, it all comes down to staying ahead of the Bruins and arriving in the post-season reasonably healthy. If they can do that, Gomez, Pacioretty and the rest of them might have a much bigger reason to celebrate.