Perception is a funny thing. You might read post-game reports from two different people who watched the same event, and one will say a certain defenceman made three giveaways while the other person will point out how the same defenceman blocked three shots. Both might be true, but the lasting impression of the game depends on the perceptions of the observer. We see what we want to see.
This season, Scott Gomez is getting a lot of heat, not only for his own lacklustre play (7 goals, 30 points, -19), but also for immediately killing the production of every winger he's given. The question amidst the criticism, however, is how much of it is truth, and how much perception? To find out, it's time to crunch some numbers.
I have broken down the performance of the six wingers who have played most often this season with both Gomez and Tomas Plekanec, for comparison purposes. I restricted the analysis to even-strength points, as special teams combinations tend to be much more fluid and are influenced by such factors as the other team's effectiveness on the PK.
Here's how it breaks down:
Andrei Kostitsyn. Kostitsyn has played 39 of 62 games with Plekanec, and put up 19 of his 25 even-strength points (ESP), for 0.49 PPG. With Plekanec, he's a +9. He's played 15 games with Gomez, registering only two ESP, or 0.24 PPG. With Gomez, he's -6.
Brian Gionta. The captain played 37 of 63 games with Gomez, and scored 9 ESP, or 0.24 PPG, with a -6 rating. In 26 games with Plekanec, he has 16 ESP, or 0.62 PPG, with a +8.
Michael Cammalleri. Cammy played 35 of 48 games with Plekanec, scoring 17 of his 20 ESP...or 85%...in those games. That's 0.49 PPG, with a +13 rating. In his 9 games with Gomez, Cammalleri had 2 ESP for 0.22 PPG and a -2 rating.
Max Pacioretty. Pax has spent 24 of 33 games on Gomez' wing. In those games, he's got 9 ESP, or 0.39 PPG, and is -8. He's played 9 games with Plekanec and scored 5 ESP, or 0.56 PPG, and is +2.
Benoit Pouliot. In 4 games with Gomez, he's scored 3 ESP, for 0.75 PPG, with a +1 rating. In 3 games with Plekanec, he's got 2 ESP, for 0.67 PPG, and a +2
Lars Eller. He's played 7 games on Plekanec's wing, and scored 2 ESP, for 0.29 PPG, with a -3. In 5 games with Gomez, he's got no ESP and is -5.
Travis Moen. He played no games with Plekanec, but 20 with Gomez. In those 20 games, he has 2 ESP, for an average of 0.10 PPG and a -1 rating.
The grand total for both centres: Of the seven players (including Moen in Gomez' case) who have spent the vast majority of the season flanking Gomez and Plekanec at even strength, those playing with Plekanec average 0.42 even-strength PPG and are a combined +31. The same players, skating with Gomez, have scored an average 0.28 even-strength PPG, with a combined -26.
Those numbers, like all statistics, should be taken with a view of the big picture. Gomez, after all, had 20 games centering a stone-hands guy like Travis Moen while Plekanec had none. (Although, it should also be noted that in 5 games in which Plekanec played with 3rd/4th liners Darche and Halpern, those guys have 0.8 even-strength PPG, and are a combined +5.)
Ice time doesn't figure into the comparison, as Gomez and his assorted wingers got the most playing time of any line about as many times as Plekanec did. Neither does competition account for the discrepancy between the centres' performance. In more than 80% of the Canadiens' games, Plekanec and his wingers face the opposition's top defence pair (defined as the opposing defencemen who get the most ice time in a game) more often than any other line.
It would seem, then, that playing with Scott Gomez this season really is the Pit of Despair for wingers. Five of the six wingers who've played with both have seen their production at even strength drop by half when moved to Gomez' line. The other, Max Pacioretty, dropped by about a third.
Interestingly, the only winger who performed better with Gomez than any other, Benoit Pouliot, played only four games on Gomez' wing before being permanently removed from the line. Considering that he's put up only 0.32 PPG with Halpern, 0.23 PPG with Eller and 0.33 PPG with Desharnais, Martin might consider moving Pouliot back with Gomez for a trial period, just to see if those early games were a fluke or not.
It's also interesting to see Kostitsyn begin to produce again after his removal from Gomez' line. He has a combined 0.53 even-strength PPG playing with Halpern or Eller. It would be wise of Martin to keep him away from Gomez forever.
Sometimes, we adopt an image of a player's performance based purely on perception. We don't like Gomez' contract, or we never warmed up to the trade, so we see the bad things he does and ignore the good. In the case of his wingers, however, the numbers show there is a definite Gomez Effect. That's not perception. That's fact.