Thursday, February 3, 2011

Aftermath: A Tale of Two Centres

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.


Anonymous said...

Gomez can't play like Pleky because he doesn't think like Pleky.

Viva Plekanec!

The Pleky touch
Pleky power

V said...

Lots of Gomez bashing. Can't say he does not deserve some but like you will hold out for the upside in the playoffs.

On the subject of performance assessment, isn't it about time we recognized the job Jacques Martin is doing with the team this year. Pleks for one is a guy that probably owes some of his success to Martin - wasn't it just before Martin arrived when Pleks signed a one-year deal because there were big questions about his performance. Under Martin he has blossomed.

J.T. said...

@V: I'm not sure Martin is behind Plekanec's success. Pleks had a pretty darn good season under Carbo as well, before the year he got dragged down with an underperforming Kovalev. Even in that 39-point season, he still worked hard and played very well defensively.

That said, I think Martin deserves credit for managing a depleted roster pretty well. The situation right now...loss of talent to actually saved by his defence-first system. Because he doesn't rely on offence or creativity to win, like, say, Guy Boucher does, Martin can get a team to function with much less available talent. Basically, all you need is a team of good, disciplined skaters to play a Martin game. The Habs would be suffering now if they had a more creative coach.

DB said...

Gomez reminds of Kovalev. Both are least effective when they try and do it all by themselves.

I don't know how many times I've seen Gomez pick-up the puck in his own zone, start carrying it up the ice while his wingers start heading for the other teams zone anticipating that Gomez will pass them the puck. Instead Gomez continues to carry the puck, forcing his wingers to stop at the other team's blueline.

Gomez then carries the puck across the other teams blueline and is immediately met by 4 opposition players. Since his wingers are still at the blueline Gomez has no one to pass to so he just dumps the puck towards the boards. Invariably the other team gets the puck and moves it easily out of their zone.

Last night you complemented Pacioretty-we-could-have-had-Perron on his play. If he keeps it up he'll soon lose the we-could-have-had-Perron tag.

Now if we only could get Kostitsyn-we-could-have-had-Carter-Seabrook-Parise-Getzlaf-Richards-Kesler-Perry-Bergeron-Weber(Shea not Yannick)to consistently play to his potential.

Anonymous said...

Can just picture the Habs with Gomez in Hamilton and Fisher and Neil in bleu, blanc et rouge.

V said...

JT... you and others say that Martin is not creative. I think his system is very creative, just not flashy or even beautiful.

Some of our best architects and painters have subsribed to the dictum, 'less is more'. Their creative genuius was in stripping things down to their basic elements. The beauty was in their simplicity.

We keep hearing Martin talking about keeping things simple... defence, special teams (and something else). Could he just be hockey's version of a minimilist.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if giving Gomez more money than he ever imagined making has perhaps taken the edge off? Kidding, of course it has. What is there for him to work for? He needs inspiration. Sometimes it isn't a coach that does that, or peers. Your inspiration comes from one source, and she might do us all a favor and kick Scotty's butt.

Number31 said...

Maybe Gomez should spend his free time studying Plekanec's videos. However it's amazing how he just cuts through an entire team to bring the puck over the line only to do absolutely nothing once he's there. Or perhaps the rest of the forwards on the ice need to get it slammed into their brains that when Gomez has the puck, SKATE SKATE SKATE. Perhaps if he went deeper into the offensive zone with the puck, it might help instead of stopping just by the blueline (seems to work on the PP). That spontaneous back-pass to the D pisses me off though. Either way, guys need to keep their sticks on the ice more.