Daily Hab-it: Indefensible
Boston Bruins left wing Milan Lucic (17) celebrates after scoring against the Montreal Canadiens during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
By Arpon Basu
Published Thursday, February 10, 2011 1:51AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:10AM EDT
See that white jersey peeking out from behind the mass of humanity that is Milan Lucic? That's Scott Gomez.
The photo is a perfect snapshot of the kind of night a supposed leader of the team had in this 8-6 beatdown – in every sense of the word – the Canadiens suffered in Boston on Wednesday.
The psychological importance of this game was clear to everyone in the Canadiens dressing room Tuesday, even if it was just one of 82 regular season games, and it is only February.
Yet that importance was seemingly lost on Gomez.
A lot of his teammates weren't much better, but Gomez is seen as a member of the Canadiens vaunted leadership group. In a game with about as much importance as a Feb. 9 game can have, he had a responsibility to be far better than he was.
Unfortunately, Gomez's performance on this night was an exaggerated example of his entire season, and it's something that's going to need to be addressed moving forward.
I've resisted jumping on the Gomez hate train, and in fact I probably spend more time defending him than anything else.
Because he's won before. Because he comes from an organization that knew how to do things the right way. Because I thought he was great in last year's playoffs. Because I don't think it's fair to judge a player based solely on his salary, even if it's an important factor in a cap world.
But the biggest reason is because I get the distinct impression that deep down, he cares. Even if he doesn't show it all the time, I really do think Gomez cares. Except in this game, and in far too many other ones this season, he didn't care one bit.
When plus-minus is truly telling
Gomez was on the ice Wednesday night for four of the Bruins first five goals.
They were all daggers, and he had a prominent role in each one.
On the game's opening goal, Gomez was trailing a step behind his man Patrice Bergeron on a 3-on-2 break. Totally unbothered, Bergeron was able to put a beautiful pass right on the tape of Brad Marchand, and it was 1-0 Bruins.
For some reason, Jacques Martin saw fit to throw the same line right back out there, and as Dennis Seidenberg was batting a juicy rebound past Carey Price – one that P.K. Subban decided to swing at with his stick instead of bat away with his glove – Gomez watched as Seidenberg skated right past him on his way to the net. 2-0.
Then, only 1:18 after the Canadiens had roared back to tie the game, Gomez was in front of his own net checking no one and poked at a puck that was on Nathan Horton's stick in the slot. The poke did nothing – as pokes often do – and Horton's pass found its target in Adam McQuaid, who gave the Bruins the lead 3-2.
And finally, with his team down 4-3, Gomez loses Lucic when he goes to cover Horton – who is already being watched by Subban – and the rebound is behind Price in no time, producing the photo you see above.
Normally, I don't like relying on regular plus-minus ratings because they are too vague, not allowing for poor linemates or defensive pairings behind you. But in this case, Gomez's minus-4 was a picture perfect reflection of his performance. Throw in his 0-for-7 mark in the faceoff circle, and you have a piece de resistance.
Dragging linemates down with him
Gomez's linemates Lars Eller and Andrei Kostitsyn had the same minus-4 rating as he did, and all three of them got a great view of the third period from the bench, save for 37 seconds of ice time.
I'm not absolving his wingers of all blame, but this was another glaring example of something we've seen all season, and that's a serious dip in performance when wingers are thrown on Gomez's line.
Earlier in the season it was a quirk, an anomaly, one that was balanced out by the fact that Tomas Plekanec was able to turn his wingers into Jari Kurri.
But now it's a serious problem because there is little end in sight.
When Michael Cammalleri comes back from his shoulder injury, it would appear logical that he'd be put on a line with Gomez and Eller or maybe even Kostitsyn would be dropped back to the bottom six.
We all remember the way Cammalleri struggled when he returned from his knee injury last season, going his final nine games without a goal before lighting it up in the playoffs.
Can Martin really afford to put Cammalleri on Gomez's line when he returns, especially since his lack of production this season can already be partially tied to that line combination to begin with?
As much as people want to see Gomez sent out of town, or at least sent to the press box, the fact is that when he's playing at his best he makes this team a whole lot better.
Even though a veteran like him shouldn't need it, could it be that Wednesday night's brutal performance will serve as a wakeup call?
Let me re-phrase.
Is it possible this latest wake-up call will finally register with Gomez?
The Canadiens have made it this far largely without their highest-paid player performing anywhere near expectations. But one has to wonder how much further they can go if it continues.