You win some. You lose some. And sometimes one is ripped from your hardworking hands by a goaltender who robs you blind. The Habs found their fate behind door number three last night.
If not for Ryan Miller, that was a game the Habs should certainly have won. They had the shots. They had the offensive zone pressure. They kept the Sabres to a bare minimum of time in front of Carey Price for two periods. They looked good against a team that's showing its off-season moves have made it a strong opponent. What they didn't have was a cohesive power play or any luck at all, save bad. The power play they can work on. The luck, inevitably, will change.
All in all, there was a whole lot to like in the Great Miller Robbery. Raphael Diaz scored a beauty for his first NHL goal, and despite being on the ice for the Sabres' first tally, looked very poised on defence. So did Yannick Weber, who's been quietly efficient.
David Desharnais with Max Pacioretty and Andrei Kostitsyn continues to be a constant threat. Pacioretty in particular seems to get an excellent scoring chance on every shift. When he's on the ice, the puck is almost always moving away from the Canadiens' net. He's at a point a game right now, and if he can continue that pace, there's every reason to hope the Habs have finally exorcised the ghost of John Leclair.
Lars Eller, too, is showing a lot of skill and smarts as he works on Tomas Plekanec's wing, even if he hasn't put up a point in his three games. He looks to have greatly improved his strength since last season, and he's able to move the puck with patience, rarely making a dumb play. The only catch with Eller is that he's a natural centreman. He plays best in his proper position and, although he's handling himself well as a winger, you have to think about how well he'd do with two good wings himself. It's slightly amusing to see him and Plekanec finding themselves in the same place sometimes because they're both playing centre.
That brings us to the Scott Gomez line, and a brief pause from discussing the good things about last night. Right now, there are three Canadiens centres who are playing better than Gomez. Plekanec, Eller and Desharnais are all making things happen. Gomez isn't exactly terrible, but he's not been a difference maker. His was the line on the ice for the Sabres first goal, which was born of a rare flurry of defensive confusion on the Habs' part. On a night on which the Canadiens flowed from shift to shift, maintaining dominance in puck control, there was a noticable drop in pressure when the Gomez line came out. Too often, the passes on that line went astray and board battles were lost. Gomez defenders will argue he's stuck with a grinder like Travis Moen, which might account for some of the hiccups in offensive flow. The counter argument is that Moen has two goals and an assist in comparison to Gomez' lone assist in five games. When you consider that scoring juggernaut Josh Gorges has double that, it's not a good sign.
Gomez came to camp talking about his hard work over the summer and his intention to be less predictable and more effective this season. Five games in is pretty early to decide whether or not that's going to happen, but so far he looks a whole lot like the guy who put up 38 points last season. It's true that Brian Gionta has whiffed on at least three perfect set-ups that would have boosted Gomez' totals. It's also true that other wingers on other lines have missed golden opportunities, but guys like Plekanec and Desharnais have more points because of the sheer number of chances they generate. If their wingers miss a couple, they're not missing the only chances they get, as is sometimes the case with Gomez.
At this point, the long-standing bellyaching about Gomez' salary is moot. It doesn't matter what he makes. It matters only what he does. Right now, he's performing like a third-line centre. Even his champion, Jacques Martin, has recognized the fact that both Plekanec and Desharnais are outplaying him, and dropped his ice time to third among centres. When Michael Cammalleri comes back from injury and likely displaces Eller from Plekanec's wing, it's going to leave the promising youngster relegated to either the fourth line, or to playing wing with Gomez. One could argue that based on their play in the last couple of games, Eller should be the one centering Gionta and possibly Mathieu Darche.
One could also argue that the Gomez experiment isn't working and it's time for Pierre Gauthier to move him somewhere...anywhere...in exchange for a winger who, with Eller and Gionta, could make a legitimately threatening third line. That would also leave guys like Darche and Moen to play their appropriate fourth-line roles. When it comes down to it, Gomez isn't producing offensively, he's not a threat as a shut-down guy, and his leadership isn't irreplaceable. This isn't a personal slag on Gomez. There's every chance he means what he says about trying harder and improving his game. There's also every chance that he just isn't able to do it anymore.
Of course, Gomez isn't responsible for last night's heartbreaker. That came at the hands of Ryan Miller and two breakdowns in defensive coverage that both ended up behind Carey Price. Josh Gorges' awful icing that led to the backbreaker at the end of the second was much more glaring than anything Scott Gomez did, or didn't do. In a game like last night's, though, when everyone else is playing such an aggressive, high-octane game, it's apparent he's not quite at the same level.
It's something for Gauthier to carefully consider, especially if losses continue to pile up and Gomez continues to be ineffectual. Lars Eller, at some point, will be a top-line player. It's just a matter of whether it's now or later. In the meantime, the Habs can look at the really good things they did last night and feel good. After all, you win some and you lose some, but you don't get robbed every night.