Saturday, January 9, 2010

A changing of the guard

The Canadiens probably deserved better than the single point they got in their 2-1 overtime loss to the Devils on Saturday night, but when Martin Brodeur is on his game, that point has to be considered a bonus.

I have to admit, I thought Jacques Martin would call on Carey Price to start this game based on his history against the Devils (2-3-1, 2.17 GAA and .932 SP in his career), but Jaroslav Halak really proved something in going toe-to-toe with a living legend in the other net.

However, that is not the changing of the guard I'm referring to in my headline, because Price will get his chance again and the pendulum will likely swing back in his direction at some point this season.

No, the change is the status of the Habs top line now falls on the shoulders of Scott Gomez, who was expected to fill that slot this season to begin with.

His line with Brian Gionta and Benoit Pouliot has been the Habs most dangerous for four games now, and Gomez has four goals and 15 assists in his last 20 games after scoring Montreal's only goal tonight.

“It still can improve," Gomez said of his line's play. "We’re getting chances, but we’re still a couple of miscues off. That’s going to come, but as a line you judge yourself on whether you’re getting chances are not and with Benny and Brian, they’re goal scorers and they’ll start putting them in. I’m not worried about that.”

No, there isn't any reason to worry about that, but the play of Tomas Plekanec of late has to be at least a cause for a little concern. His pointless streak has now hit a season-high four games, and he looks exhausted out there. I can't really blame him, with the double duty he's been pulling as a top-line centre and top penalty killer so far this season.

People will say that it's the injury to Andrei Kostitsyn that's caused this little mini-slump for Plekanec, but I don't buy it. Plekanec had a different set of wingers every game at the start of the season, and he still managed to put points on the board. No, this is a case of a guy who is tired, plain and simple.

So if there is one person this four-day break in the schedule should benefit, I would think it would be him. But what will be the effect on the rest of the team, which is playing some of its best hockey right now?

“We can play with anyone when we’re all healthy," Gomez said. "It’s too bad we’ve got the week off with the way we’re playing, but at the same time guys will get refreshed.”

The Habs don't practice for two straight days and then get two days of practice before hosting the Dallas Stars on Thursday. That's four days for this city to stew over who will get the start in goal, four days to hypothesize and analyze this team to bits.

But as far as I can see, hitting that break coming off an effort like the one they put in against the Devils should benefit the Habs. Because if they had any doubts as to their ability to compete with the league's elite teams, those should be erased now.


john deere said...

Gomez seems really happy with Benoit joining the team as his winger.

When Booby Hull left the Chicago Blackhawks to join the Winnipeg Jets in the upstart WHA at first he was quite happy and looked around and thought to himself why aren't these guys in the NHL. Towards the end of the first season he came to understand why these guys weren't in the NHL and he had a giant WTF am I doing here moment. By the end of the first season he wished he could just go back to Chicago but the couldn't. In the off-season the Jets signed Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and the first time they skated up the ice on a drill with him Hull thought that yes, this could really work. And it was good and Bobby was very happy playing the rest of his career in Winnipeg with Ulf and Anders.

V said...

Boy what a drag about AK... I would love this team to get 20 games with top 9 intact just to get a hint of what we really have. His going means it's tougher for Gomez line to excel - other team can focus more on them. Our top 2 lines could be very good when healthy and provided the opportunity to get to know one another better.

john deere said...

Gainey talked to CBC for a few minutes before Saturday's game and mentioned that the amateur scouts were getting together for a week and then next week the pro scouts would be getting together.

Arpon Basu said...

I saw that pack of amateur scouts at Thursday's game, there must have been about 15 of them there. After the game, I took the elevator down to the dressing room and I was the only one in there who wasn't a Habs scout. They were all talking to one of the scouts about how he had bragging rights that night, and I was trying to figure out if he was the guy who scouted Halak or the one who scouted Pouliot when he was in junior and sold the Habs on his skills. Anyhow, whatever it was, he appeared pretty pleased with himself in that elevator.

Sliver24 said...

I could be off-base completely but what about the possibility that Plek's slump has more to do with the fact that Jan 1 has come and gone. His agent is likely actively talking contract with the Gainey, and Plek is undoubtedly being kept informed about the progress with regular updates.

All of a sudden there's a tangible link between his play and his paycheque over the next several years.

Arpon Basu said...

No, that's a definite possibility Sliver, especially considering how he ducked reporters the day after Gainey spoke about the negotiations. However, I would generally say that players feeling contract pressure have a tendency to try to do too much, and I wouldn't say that's necessarily been the case with Plekanec during this little slump. I feel it has more to do with being second on the puck, something that was rarely the case through the first 40 games.