So the Canadiens are about to square off with their long-time arch enemy Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at the Bell Centre, and today I’m wondering if Scott Gomez will be putting in an appearance tonight. I’m fully aware that he’ll be on the ice, but it’s gotten to the point where I’m starting to question why.
I really want to like Gomez. He’s proved to be a valuable leader on the team and was an important contributor during last year's playoff run, so he didn't get handed an albatross of a contract through sheer dumb luck. But I just can’t seem to warm to the guy.
I know that he tends to start off slow and warm up as the season progresses, but the Habs are about to play their 20th game, so that represents almost a quarter of the season. Thus far he has six lousy points. At this rate he’s on pace to hit about 25 for the year, and any patience I had with this player has long since evaporated.
In all fairness to Gomez, he was not the only one who looked asleep during the Habs' last game versus Nashville, but he is one of the few on the team who stands out for being inconsistent. It’s not just one game that I’m knocking him for here. It’s all of them to date.
When Brian Gionta was still not scoring earlier in the year, it was at least obvious that he was bringing solid effort each and every game. I have yet to see that with Gomez, and I don’t see why it’s too much to ask either.
Gomez can be creative and smart, using his speed to burst past opposing defenders and gain the offensive zone. He’s usually sound defensively, but the fact is he’s required to contribute offensively as well. This year he uses his speed and then typically and inexplicably makes a bad play or a bad decision with the puck more often than not.
It’s truly frustrating to watch. He is an entirely capable player who seems to have forgotten how to make the smart play, or sometimes looks too lazy and lost to do it. He passes when he should shoot, usually to a winger who is covered by one or more defensemen, and he shoots when he actually does have the open man.
I don’t know that it’s all Gomez’s fault either. In order to be an effective playmaker, he needs two strong finishers, and for the better part of the season to date he’s played with only one proven scorer and grinder.
I like Travis Moen, Maxim Lapierre and Tom Pyatt, but they are hardly scoring threats and Gomez knows this as well as anyone else, so he always looks to his finisher first. That makes it pretty easy to shut down his line by simply covering its one scoring winger, as Gomez is unlikely to take a shot on net or cash in if he actually even tries.
This allows opposing teams to maintain most of its focus on the Habs' first line centered by Tomas Plekanec. And lately when the Plekanec line is not scoring, the team is not scoring. The Habs have already been shut out three times this season, and if Gomez’s line continues to not pose a threat offensively, I expect that number to climb.
Right now the third line of Jeff Halpern – Benoit Pouliot – Mathieu Darche has more scoring potential than Gomez’s line. Halpern and Darche are smart playmakers who are not afraid to go into the corners and fight for the puck, and Pouliot has absorbed their work ethic while still providing plenty of finish.
I really think it’s time for Jacques Martin’s rotating winger experiment on the second line to end. Ideally what I’d like to see happen is Andrei Kostitsyn put back on the first line where he shines with Plekanec, and last year’s second line of Gomez, Gionta and Pouliot given another shot together, one that lasts longer than three games.
If the second line continues to remain ineffective after that, then it might be worth switching Gomez with one of the bottom two line centers. I think Halpern and even rookie Lars Eller’s efforts are more deserving of the almost 20 minutes of ice time that Gomez is currently enjoying.
Now centered by Plekanec, Gionta has once again found his scoring touch, and Kostitsyn on Gomez’s line has now gone cold. Just like Gionta, Kostitsyn’s efforts and abilities have not wavered. This does not speak well of Gomez’s playmaking abilities as of late.
Martin has already pulled Gomez aside once for a private chat this season, apparently with little effect. And if Martin did send a message by reducing his ice time or dropping him down to the third or fourth line, perhaps Gomez might finally remember something about hard work, focus and determination.
Regardless of whether or not I’m ever going to like this player in the bleu, blanc et rouge, he is a key cog in the Habs' offensive machinery. Whatever it is that’s broken with him needs to be fixed sooner rather than later for this team to continue to be successful.
So which version of Scott Gomez will show up to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight? Will it be the fleet-footed playmaker battling for the puck, or the lost, lazy, disinterested and ineffective version? Is he seemingly too confident or arrogant and simply dropped his efforts, or has his lack of success so far this season allowed doubts to overcome his abilities? What do you think?