Sunday, March 6, 2011

Aftermath: Credit

One of the easiest things for an armchair coach to do is criticize. We see the play unfold at TV speed, or from high up above if we're lucky enough to be in the rink. We can see the trailer sneaking in on the PK and the open man on the PP, and we scream at the player on the ice who doesn't see what we do. So, while criticism comes easy to us, it's sometimes a lot harder to give credit where it's due.

With that in mind, Scott Gomez played a helluva game last night. In a big game with deep psychological implications for his team, the guy who's looked like the inspiration for the Beatles "Nowhere Man" most of the year, shone. He used his speed effectively and went to the middle rather than peeling off to the left on his rushes. He worked hard on the boards, and made a great play to break up a Lightning chance on the PP. Most obviously different from his play in other games this season, he made some very quick decisions. The Pacioretty goal on the 2-on-1 was a perfect example. A month ago, Gomez would have waited, waited and then, out of time and options, let a shot go right at a goalie who was set for it. Last night, though, he fired a great pass to Pax at top speed and the kid buried it.

The surprising thing about his play last night wasn't that he actually had such a great game, but that fans seem so ready to dismiss it. Sometimes, we become so critical of a player (not that Gomez hasn't deserved it alot of the time) that we fail to see the good in him. What we forget is, even if the guy has sucked all year, is overpaid and deeply frustrating, he's still a member of the Canadiens. If Gomez starts playing up to his level of ability and producing, it might mean your pet theory about his level of suckitude is debunked, but it also means your team has a better chance to win. Gomez isn't my favourite player, but he's a Hab. And if he can help the team down the stretch and into the playoffs, I'm cheering for him.

The strong play of everyone else who contributed last night: Desharnais, Plekanec, Gill, Price, Gionta, Pacioretty, Subban, Hamrlik and the rest, we're beginning to expect. Those are guys who bring it every night and it's easy to root for them. It's the guys like Gomez and Kostitsyn who, because of their inconsistency, are tougher to love. That's why we have to remember to give them credit when they help our team...even if they drive you nuts the rest of the time.


Anonymous said...

Yup. Like the little brother I can't stand: I love the guy if he'd just help out once in awhile!


Anonymous said...

Okay, granted Gomez played well, I still cannot figure out why JM played him (and for 23 minutes) not knowing that he would have a good night?! Why is it that if another player slacks, his minutes are cut? Gomez must carry a lot of weight in the locker room or JM is intimidated by him. Look at DD for instance. This guy is good and will only get better. Now go and check out the amount of minutes he played last game.

My comments are not rhetorical. -- do you have an answer, JT? I trust your judgement.

J.T. said...

@anon: Well, I think there are several reasons for the discrepancy in ice time versus performance between DD and Gomez. First, Martin tends to trust his vets more than his rookies in important games. Second, Gomez, I think, is indeed really respected in the room and demoting him or otherwise insulting him could be a problem with his veteran posse, which includes the captain and Gill (who I think is the REAL boss of the room.) Third, Martin's been trying to manage the opposition Desharnais is facing. It doesn't always work, but he's trying to put more experienced centres like Plekanec or Gomez on against the likes of the Charas, Prongers and Keiths of the D-world. Fourth, I think Martin believes if a guy has performed in the past, he can do it again. Perhaps he believes giving Gomez more ice time is actually giving him lots of chances to break out of his funk.

Of course, all of that's just guesswork, but I suspect that there are a variety of factors at play here, and those may be some of them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughts, J.T. I suspect also that there would be a disruption amongst the posse if Gomez was scratched from a game or demoted in any other way. We forget that these guys are human and along with that we don't see the mental aspect or psychological aspect only the players are privy to in the locker room. Like any "group", there are always the leaders, the popular ones. Clicks are formed and I believe that there is an unusual large American contingency here at play and collectively their rule could outweigh the rule of the coach(es). A smart coach sees that and is careful not to offset the equilibrium.

Well, so long as we're winning, I'm 90% fine with this, but at the same time it doesn't give the little guys (figuratively speaking) an equal chance.

Anonymous said...

The rationale that you don't disrespect a veteran because it will lead to dissent is bogus. Remember Alex Kovalev? Was he not hugely embarrassed? Or are we selective in which players can and can't be disrespected?

I believe NHL players want to WIN and are a team of soldiers for hire. They realize this is a business and if demoting a veteran for a hot rookie helps them win then so be it.

I think in any workplace perceived favoritism by the boss is way more disruptive to the whole. I know that is how I feel.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree.