He is not be 100 per cent of the problem.
But on this night in Carolina, the absence of Gomez was definitely part of the solution.
Numbers may be deceptive, but they don’t lie.
Through two periods, Gomez played 12:31. He had no shots on goal, lost five of eight faceoffs and gave the puck away twice.
The Canadiens trailed 2-1 after 40 minutes.
Gomez was not available in the third period: lower body injury, day-to-day status.
Over the last 20 minutes, Jacques Martin used three lines. The Canadiens scored twice and scored the only goal of the Shootout to get two points they probably didn’t deserve.
Through the first two periods, Lars Eller – playing on the wing, mostly with Petteri Nokelainen and Mathieu Darche – had two SoG and a shorthanded goal that brought the Canadiens back into the game.
Switched to centre for the third period, Eller assisted on the Travis Moen goal that tied the game at 3-3 and finished the game at plus-2.
David Desharnais was 12-5 on faceoffs and had three takeaways.
The top three centres on this team are Tomas Plekanec, DD and Eller.
Again, I’m not a habitual Gomez basher.
He came up through one of the league’s great organizations and comports himself like a consummate pro. Gomez is a good teammate and mentor to the younger players.
At this point, however, the situation reminds me of an anecdote Pierre McGuire once related on Mitch Melnick’s show.
In discussion the talents of someone McGuire did not identify, the Scotty Bowman was told “he’s good in the room”.
“Then let him stay in the room,” the great coach growled, “because he’s no f—ing good on the ice.”
Barring remarkable powers of recuperation, Gomez will not play in Philadelphia on Friday afternoon. He’s probably a longshot to face Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in what should be a classic Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
Based on what we saw in Carolina, the lines battling against the great state of Pennsylvania should be Tomas Plekanec centring Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri, DD between Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty, Eller with Moen and either Aaron Palushaj or Mathieu Darche holding the fort until Andrei Kostitsyn is available.
The fourth line?
I wish the Canadiens had one.
As it is, Petteri Nokelainen is a useful player for the penalty-kill – which was perfect again in Carolina – and strategic faceoffs. But regardless of who is flanking the Finn (Aaron Palushaj played all of 4:38 against the Hurricanes), the Canadiens’ fourth line is not physical and is incapable of lighting a spark, generating energy and waking up the crowd if the team is at home.
That predicament could be solved by the return of Ryan White, but we may not see him until 2012.
And before then, the Canadiens have to travel to California next week and play nine of their 14 December games on the road.
The Philly-Pittsburgh back-to-back will be the beginning of a big test for this team.
Based on what we saw in Carolina, it’s difficult to predict how the Canadiens will fare.
Once again, the team proved it never quits. They were down 2-0 within six minutes. Carey Price was beaten on two of the first three shots he faced.
But tht e Canadiens battled back. They killed penalties. They generated a lot of pressure on Cam Ward, hitting the post four times.
Erik Cole was a beast in his homecoming. Max-Pac had seven shots and missed the net five times, numbers that indicate he was on the puck all night.
Justifying his inclusion in the Hal Gill-bolstered lineup, Alexei Emelin had six hits.
And Price – beaten on the first four Shootout chances he’d faced this season – stoned the Hurricanes.
But on balance, the Canadiens played better in losing to Boston.
The captain scored the Shootout winner but he was on the ice for all three goals against.
In his Antichambre chalk talk, Gaston Therrien highlighted the woeful forechecking inadequacies of Mike Cammalleri.
And now that we’ve finally found a spot for Gomez, let’s move on to another vexing question:
What’s wrong with P.K.?
Subban is averaging a team-high 23:44 per game. But he’s scored only once, he gets less PP time than Weber and he doesn’t look like he’s having any fun.
L’Antichambre showed a sequence in which P.K. gains puck possession in the Canadiens’ end. Eller is wide-open and tapping for the puck. Mathieu Darche also wants it; but by the time Subban moves the puck up, the Carolina defenceman has closed on Darche and forced a shot wide of the net.
Darche was furious and let P.K. have an earful on the bench.
Now we can have an interesting discussion about whether a player of Darche’s talents should be saying ANYTHING to someone as gifted as Subban.
But sophomore jinx or not, this is not the P.K. who used to lift Bell Centre fans out of their seats.
Ah, not to worry.
P.K. is a stud. He’ll get his poop in a group.
But Gomez …