As is customary after wins this season, your Montreal Canadiens gathered at centre ice to salute their Bell Centre fans after the final horn sounded.
The players raised their sticks to acknowledge a 3-0 conquest of the hapless Rangers, but there was something else worth celebrating, something that transcended the 10th home win of this remarkable season.
The Canadiens have exorcised the ghost of Scott Gomez.
After Rangers general manager Glen Sather unloaded his worst contract on Bob Gainey, Montreal fans endured three miserable seasons of Gomez.
With an annual salary cap hit of $7.4 million, Gomez scored 12 goals and added 47 assists during his first season in blue-blanc-rouge. He had another two goals and 12 assists during the team’s miraculous 2010 playoff run.
That was the high-water mark. In his second season in Montreal, Gomez’s totals slipped to seven goals and 31 assists. A year ago, it was two goals and nine assists.
And then he was gone. But even after new GM Marc Bergevin sent Gomez packing, the bitter memories lingered.
With Gomez’s salary off their books, the Rangers signed Marian Gaborik. They added Brad Richards and, this season, Rick Nash. The rising star of their defence was Ryan McDonagh, a former Canadiens’ first-round draft choice who was a throw-in in the Gomez deal.
Last season, the Rangers topped the Eastern Conference with 109 points. Their goal differential was plus-39.
And the team Scott Gomez was playing for finished dead last with a differential of minus-14.
A year later, however, the Rangers are clinging to eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Their differential is minus-6, and they have scored fewer goals than any other team in the NHL.
The Canadiens played the Rangers three times this season. They won every game – two by Carey Price shutouts.
The Canadiens owned those Broadway Blue asses. And while the dominance doesn’t compensate for three miserable seasons of Gomez, it does feel good to see Sather’s team stuck with another overpaid, under-producing “star”.
Marian Gaborik’s cap hit is $7.5 million. He’s on the Rangers’ fourth line.
Brad Richards, with a cap hit of $6.7 million, is slow and ineffective. Nash – the Rangers’ $7.8 million man – had one shot on goal against the Canadiens.
Brendan Gallagher is making a prorated $870,000 this season. He got his 11th goal against the Rangers and busted his butt on every shift. Gallagher is restoring honour to jersey number 11, worn with distinction by Saku Koivu before the powers that be allowed the escutcheon to be tarnished by letting Gomez have number 11.
Let’s review: The new number 11 has scored 11 … and counting. Gomez is number 23 in San Jose, and the days may be numbered for Sather in New York.
The Rangers were prepared to play a good game Saturday. They fired 17 shots at Price during the first period. He stopped them all, while Michael Ryder and Tomas Plekanec were beating Martin Biron.
The visitors were held to eight shots in the second period, nine in the third. The Canadiens played smart, disciplined – and, truth be told, frequently boring – hockey to solidify their hold on first place in the Northeast Division.
The only penalty was a first-period interference minor to P.K. Subban. With their best defenceman in the box, the Canadiens held the Rangers power play to three shots on goal. Fresh out of the box, P.K. broke 2-on-1 with Plekanec and watched his teammate beat Biron with a 30-foot rocket.
I thought Plekanec and Gallagher were the Canadiens’ best forwards. P.K. led the D, as usual, with three assists and three SoG.
Nathan Beaulieu, the latest rookie defenceman into the revolving door created by Raphael Diaz’s injury, outshone his predecessors, Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi. Beaulieu played 17:17, including 1:04 on the power-play. There were some jitters, but Beaulieu was paired with wise old vet Francis Bouillon, who’s been running a Dman daycare since Diaz went down.
Beaulieu was drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft. At 17th overall, he was the Canadiens’ highest defenceman pick since 2007.
That was the year the Canadiens used the 12th overall pick to take – wait for it – Ryan McDonagh – 10 picks ahead of Max Pacioretty, 31 spots ahead of P.K. Subban.
In the 1998 draft, the 27th and final pick of the first round was Scott Gomez, who had 19 goals and 70 points with New Jersey – rookie numbers good enough to win Gomez the Calder Trophy.
In the 2010 draft, 146 players were picked ahead of Brendan Gallagher.
You just never know.