One Alaskan went to bed happy last night: Sarah Palin.
Not so much.
But a cliché you hear a lot as it pertains to winning hockey is “your best have to play like your best.”
Scott Gomez is not the best player on the Montreal Canadiens.
But he’s the highest-paid, so let’s modify the dictum slightly:
“The guy making the most money has to play like he’s earning it.”
You could make the argument this will never happen with Gomez. His cap hit is $7,357,143 – for this season and three more.
And they key to appreciating his game is ignoring the salary while you watch Gomez. He’s a great skater, a conscientious defensive centre (having come up in the New Jersey system) and, until this season, a creative playmaker.
But the season is still young. There are still 70 games for Scott Gomez to put his game together, and no reason for short-term panic.
But the Canadiens are in a mini-slump, and we’ll be removing the qualifier if Gomez doesn’t get going … and bring his old Devils teammate along with him.
Brian Gionta is fifth in the league with 47 shots on goal.
One has gone in, and the Captain may be facing the Confidence Crisis that can occur when a scorer stops scoring.
My friend Arpon Basu wonders if we’re seeing the real Canadiens.
The first 10 games and the team’s 7-3-1 record may have elevated expectations beyond what they were when training camp began, i.e. “Let’s pray they make the playoffs, but let’s be realistic: they could finish 12th.”
It doesn’t make for a Montreal Canadiens fan’s realism to evaporate. Through October the team won consistently – until last night, the Canadiens hadn’t sustained consecutive Ls – without Andrei Markov and with an anemic power play.
Markov is back, and the Canadiens have not won since his return. A bad second period on Long Island Friday night was the harbinger of a worse 60 minutes against Florida and a butt-kicking in Columbus.
The Blue Jackets’ best played like their best: Former first-round draft choices Rick Nash and Derick Brassard had goals, the spectacular Jakub Voracek two assists.
The Canadiens had a 29-24 shot advantage, but the stat is misleading. Mathieu Garon, the latest Québécois goaltender to Jacques Plante them, saw everything, had good rebound control and was rarely under any sustained pressure. Through heir recent travails, the Canadiens haven’t been getting second chances to score.
The goaltender at the other end was pretty good. Some of the Commentariat have criticized Carey Price’spositioning on the third Columbus goal, but certainly Nash’s laser would have beaten any goaltender in the league (cue 25 Comments claiming Jaro Halak would have stopped it), and the Brassard goal was a power-play tic-tac-toe after a defensive breakdown that started with Josh Gorges bumping into Brian Gionta.
It was imperative for Carey Price to start the season well. He did, and the team played a solid defensive system that limited opposition’s shots-on-goal.
That element of the Canadiens’ game remains intact. Columbus’s 24 shots is not the kind of 40-plus bombardment Price and Halak routinely faced last season.
There are other positives going forward:
Jeff Halpern’s line, with Benoit Pouliot and Mathieu Darche might have been the Canadiens’ best last night. Tomas Plekanec’s line wasn’t, but whomever he centres is going to get scoring chances. Pleks is that good.
Jacques Martin juggled his lines in the third period, and it seemed to pay dividends; though you could argue Columbus had the game won at that point and was easing off the throttle.
Andrei Kostitsyn played well with Gomez and Gionta. Lars Eller did not look out of place with Plekanec and Cammalleri.
Jacques Martin might be too conservative to change his top two lines for Friday’s game in Buffalo. But the Travis Moen experiment ought to be terminated, and something has to be done to get G&G untracked.
The interesting personnel moves will come on D. Roman Hamrlik and Jaro Spacek looked old and slow – as did Hal Gill – against skilled, speedy 20somethings like Brassard and Voracek. There were indications, heading into Columbus, that Spatch would sit out; but the coach had a game-day change of heart.
Maybe we’ll see Alexandre Picard against the Sabres. A shakeup of the pairing wouldn’t hurt, and it might help.
There were some moments last night when we were treated to vintage Markov. A couple times he swooped in from the left point on the power play, only to shoot wide or high on opportunities he usually buries.
The team’s best player – with an asterisk, the way Pleks is earning his money – will get better as Markov plays more games.
And the power play, which is currently the NHL’s worst, has to improve, right?
The Canadiens have too much talent for the PP to be this crappy. But do they have the talent to correct two notable power-play shortcomings: no Franzenesque net presence and, in the otherwise spectacular P.K. Subban, a scatter-gun shot from the right point that the kid telegraphs with his wind-up every time.
The Blue Jackets blocked 24 shots (to eight for the Canadiens), which tells me the Canadiens were kept to the perimeter and firing into a sea of sticks, with predictable futility.
Anyway, that was the last visit to Columbus until the 2012-13 season …. by which time there may not be a franchise there.
• • •
Will the team be as good as it was in October?.
The schedule continues to favour the Canadiens because Buffalo and Ottawa are not Washington and Philadelphia.
The back-to-back set at the end of the week will be a test of whether the Canadiens can recapture the mojo of their fast start – or, let’s be honest, continue to play like the team many fans dreaded before the puck dropped in Toronto on Oct. 7.