Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Larceny

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.

12 comments:

Anvilcloud said...

I follow your game commentary on Twitter, but they're so clever they almost deserve to be archived here as well.

Paul B. said...

Is it time for Gohomez ?

Hadulf said...

Agree on all points. Especially on Eller. He's been impressive ever since he came back and he IS A NATURAL CENTER, Jacques, put him at center. Of course, to do that, we absolutely need to dump Gomez...Buy him out, I don't care, take the cap hit..Send him to Hamilton so we can lose him on re-entry waivers...I don't know...

I was watching l'Antichambre last night, and Gaston Therrien (one of the analyst/ex junior coach) brought an interesting point. You have to give Gomez 20 games this season with his current ice time, pp time etc etc. Then you compare stats with your other centers, if Gomez is doing crap, you bring him in the office, you explain the situation and you dump him on the fourth line or sit him in the rafters...The guy is simply not producing.

Furthermore, Gaston's pointed out that Gomez always has more PP time than any other center. He's always playing with the top wingers (Moen aside), gets LOTS of ice time every game and he's not producing. That has been going on for (roughly) 87 games now...After his 20 games this season, if the stats don't show improvement, something's gotta give...

wayotg said...

You're spot on. I can't believe any other coach would have let Gomez have such a chokehold (and I use the term intentionally) on the third spot when he consistently fails to earn it. IMHO, the only place he's earned is on the bench or in the press box.

Steve said...

I am with you on most points and Gomez makes me puke, but unless he is upsetting chemisty I would keep him on the fourth line, unless we have a better center back on the farm, so this means enquist goes back to Hamilton.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how it can be claimed that Gomez gets to play with the top wingers on our team, when he's usually ever consistently paired with Gionta.

Take the last two games, for example: Plekanec was paired with Cole and Eller (Eller looks to be ready to make that jump to top-6, even if there's no room for him), Desharnais was paired with Kostitsyn and Pacioretty (our most stacked line, two bonafide top-6 guys) and Gomez was left with Gionta and a defensive specialist. Moen does well in his role, but he's a fit for the fourth line and is well out of his depth offensively.

Mind you, this doesn't excuse the fact that he isn't producing (though, I would argue, he's still playing well, and working far harder than he did last year), but in the last game alone, I remember at least two odd man rushes where Gomez was on a break with Moen. That's not exactly an ideal situation for him (or anyone) there.

Anonymous said...

Unlike BUFF because of injuries to our regulars and a multiple of other reasons our pre-saison games this year werent used to prepared us well as a team in time for the season's opening but now, 5 games into the season, our team's cohesion is up and running and seems just as well oiled as BUFF's own.

This new found 5 men unit cohesion started to showed itself on our fourth game against Colorado and should even improve with time as Emelin, Diaz, Cole and the establish lines familiarised themselves among themselves.

I cant see any reasons to picked this team a part now that they just started jelling as a team, let the process be and just be thankfull that Emelin and Diaz are able kids and quick learners and that we can move on despite the veteran's absences of Markov, Campoli and Spacek.

Pierre
a little late

Pisano said...

Gomez is a dud. The lack of courage shown by les Canadiens in dealing with him is pathetic. He maybe a fun guy in the room, personable and all that but he is contributing nothing on-ice.

I agree that if the work ethic and offence play continue, things will change for the better. Two mistakes, two goals. Not likely to experience many nights like that, especially while continuously dominating without being able to buy a goal.

The tougher teams concern me more than anything I saw last night...

dusty said...

Enough with the encouraging losses. How about a win, deserved or not I don't care.

MC said...

I think it is huge progress for this team that Gomez is now a 3rd line centre. Last year he was getting 2nd line, sometimes top line minutes. At least now his lack of production shouldn't hurt the team as much; he might even score more when not playing against the other teams' top lines. I also agree Eller should move ahead of him in the depth chart at centre, but I will believe that when I see it.

Trading Gomez is a nice thought, but not realistic. I don't even think anyone would take him on waivers. It's just too much to pay for 7-15 goals/year, 50% face offs, and perimeter play. Someone might take him on re-entry waivers, but I can't imagine any GM taking on that salary AND giving up an asset.

moeman said...

I agree 100% with J.T.

AndyF said...

I disagree about your evaluation of Gomez. I'm seeing some serious effort out there, beating people to the puck like I've not seen from Number 11 in a long while.

The Habs have been unlucky this season, and I would say the Gomez line has been even unluckier.

Luck will turn, and Gomez's efforts will bear fruit...