Scott Gomez is getting credit today for his willingness to stand up and take the blame for his stupid, thoughtless penalty with less than a minute to go against the Sabres last night; a penalty that possibly cost his team the second point in a desperate war of attrition. Certainly, Gomez was right to admit he made a costly mistake. He was wrong, however, to have made the mistake in the first place. Gomez is a veteran and a team leader. He spent the game watching teammates fall around him, and he witnessed the gutsy response of the guys left standing. It was his job to keep a lid on his temper and suck it up when annoying little Nathan Gerbe tried to goad him into doing exactly what he did.
Witness the difference between Gomez' response to adversity versus that of the captain. Brian Gionta, saved from being the smallest guy on the ice by virtue of sharing it with David Desharnais and Gerbe, went into the corner with huge Paul Gaustad with the game on the line. He battled cleanly and used his body to come up with the puck while Gaustad tried to separate his head from his neck. Or consider, if you will, the reaction of rookie Lars Eller when he was getting mauled (with no call) by gigantic Tyler Myers. Eller got knocked down three times, and kept coming back to fight for the puck...without cross-checking Myers in the head.
Gionta displayed leadership and grit. Eller showed determination and patience. They both put the team, and its Herculean effort to salvage at least a point in a disasterous game, first. Gomez put himself ahead of the team in a hotheaded moment we see from him too often. A guy in his position has to be better than that.
We can't say what Gomez really feels when he considers the impact his dumb decision had on his team, but one can imagine there's got to be some guilt and regret underneath his usual sardonic expression. It must be tough for him to look at Carey Price, who did everything he could to give his team the chance for two points, or P.K. Subban, who was everywhere trying to defend the lead and hurt himself in the process. It has to be hard to meet Tomas Plekanec's eye, knowing Pleks brilliantly killed the first half of the penalty to get the team to OT, without feeling some kind of remorse that goes a bit deeper than mere words.
Gomez is going to have to be better in the coming days, with serious injuries piling up for an already hurting Habs squad. Max Pacioretty, who had given Gomez' line a reason to live, looked like he'd possibly broken some ribs when he hobbled off the ice. If he's gone for any length of time, the second line risks returning to its early-season state of complete dormancy. That can't happen. The Canadiens have fought valiantly through the loss of their top offensive defenceman and their best shutdown guy, and still managed to keep pace in the playoff race. They can't be allowed to slip into obscurity now, just because Scott Gomez can't get his head out of his own back passage long enough to play some inspired hockey.
The All-Star break is coming up, which is a godsend for the walking wounded. If, as early reports indicate, Mike Cammalleri's shoulder is separated, he'll miss at least two weeks. Fortunately, one of those weeks is the week the Canadiens have off. The extra week will help limit the number of games Pacioretty and/or Jeff Halpern miss as well. It'll also help relieve the swelling and bruises most of the remaining defencemen have from blocking all those shots.
With any good luck at all, the team will be as close to whole as it can be this year following the All-Star week. So, Gomez doesn't even have to work hard for the whole remainder of the season. All he has to do is raise his effort and production enough to help carry the load of the missing guys for five or six games. If he can do that, it will go some distance in apologizing for his stupid behaviour last night. Everyone makes mistakes, and it's good to own up to them, but words mean little if they're not followed up by actions. Scott Gomez has talked the talk. Let's see if guilt can drive him to play better hockey, where money and reponsibility have not.