Fans have described last night's game with several adjectives, ranging from "sleep-inducing" to "dull as dishwater" to "zzzzzzz." For the most part, they were right. The 39 minutes when Tomas Plekanec wasn't on the ice were pretty uneventful. When the Habs top centre was involved in the play, though, things happened.
Plekanec is, on paper, a Jacques Martin kind of player. He's defensively responsible. He kills penalties like the KGB killed spies. He never fails to hurry back and assume his responsibility in his own zone. Yet, inside that defensive paragon beats the heart of a Jagr. Pleks, despite his adherence to The System, succumbs to bursts of creativity on a disturbingly (for Martin) frequent basis. Thankfully (for the Habs). He's the team's solution to any slumping winger. He's the go-to guy on the PP and the PK. And he's the team's leading scorer. When he scores, the Canadiens win 79% of the time. So, no surprise that in a Martin Special game, he managed to un-Martin himself long enough to score an important goal.
Scott Gomez, on the other hand, is Plekanec's polar opposite. He's the guy who thinks he's all about offence, but plays D because that's the only way he stays on the team. Yet, in reality, he can't score on an empty net, his passes are frequently off target, he takes stupid penalties at very inopportune times and his only real value to the team is his ability to break into the opposing zone and sometimes set up a better-shooting teammate for an assist. The hope that Gomez' habit of improving as the games get more important proves true again this year is the only reason to keep patience with him.
Brian Gionta is taking full advantage of his escape from Gomez purgatory. Plekanec is finding him in open ice and the captain has three goals in two nights to show for it. Andrei Kostitsyn, on the other hand, relegated to Gomez' line, is even more invisible than usual. This is a trend we've seen all year long: Play with Plekanec, no matter who you are, and score goals. Play with Gomez and vanish from the earth. That's the most disturbing difference between the two top-line centremen. Plekanec makes those around him better. Gomez makes them play at his own level. If he's pushing hard and playing with energy, that's a good thing. If he's floating around the offensive zone and taking dumb penalties, his linemates do nothing either.
Fortunately for the Habs, David Desharnais is showing an admirable work ethic and some nice vision on the ice. He, unlike Gomez, goes directly for the jugular when he's got the puck. Despite his size, it does give Martin an option if it becomes necessary to send Gomez a message via demotion to the third line. Not that Gomez would necessarily care about a demotion. His laconic attitude may be an act or a cover, but it certainly gives the impression that he's not overly bothered by his poor performance.
If Tomas Plekanec is the epitome of a successful Jacques Martin player, Gomez is the antithesis. He's got the ability to be better, without question. Whether he's still got the motivation to do it is a mystery.
After a win, it's a bit unsporting to point out a player's flaws, but looking ahead, it's important for Gomez to pick it up. The defence is doing the best it can right now, with Spacek and Weber playing manageable minutes, Hamrlik performing solidly, and Subban and Gill finding their way in their odd-couple partnership. The bottom-line guys are doing their best too, within their abilities, as are the goalies. The biggest issue facing the team is the lack of scoring, and that lack originates with Gomez and his linemates, whoever they are on a given night.
The coaches have no doubt shown Gomez video of what he's doing right and what he's doing wrong in an effort to get him going. What they really need to do is show him video of Plekanec and say, "Hey, Scott. Do this!" If challenged directly to play up to the level of his teammate, perhaps Gomez would respond with some passion. After all, Plekanec makes everyone else play better. Why not Gomez?
The win over Florida last night was important as the Canadiens fight to solidify a good playoff position. Perhaps, though, these close wins wouldn't be quite so nervewracking if the second-line centre played a bit more like his first-line counterpart.