In an earlier post, I laid out the New Jersey success of Gomez/Gionta and Patrik Elias. They were together a total of sixty-eight games over two seasons and scored an even 100 goals including 30 for Gomez, 36 for Gionta-36 and 34 from Elias. Outside of a brief stretch just after Benoit Pouliot arrived on the scene last season, Gomez and Gionta together haven’t seen the same success since.
Last night against Phoenix, Pouliot, Travis Moen and Tom Pyatt saw almost equal time on the Gomez line. Others receiving significant minutes on the line have been Michael Cammalleri, Andrei Kostitsyn, Mathieu Darche and even Dustin Boyd. In the second exhibition game, Jacques Martin played rookie Lars Eller with the pair. They actually had a pretty good game in their 20 shifts together, producing a goal and four shots in a 4-2 win over Ottawa. Eller, who is being brought along slowly by the Canadiens coaching staff, has not been back on the line since.
Tomorrow night Jacques Martin will again start the game with Pyatt on the left side. How long it lasts this time is anyone’s guess. Last night it was five shifts before Martin gave it up.
Logic would lead one to think that the best solution would be to put Pouliot on the line and leave him there, but Martin has gone back to the drawing board with him in an effort to establish a defensive presence and restore lost confidence. That leaves Pouliot, for the time being at least, as mostly a third and fourth line player. Last night Pouliot was on the line for two early power plays and three even-strength third period shifts.
Still, Martin can’t help but remember the twenty-three games Pouliot played with Gomez and Gionta between December 28th and March 9th. Combined they produced 33 goals. (Pouliot – 14g 11ass / Gomez – 7g 20 ass / Gionta – 12g 11ass).
It’s dangerous to make assumptions, but projecting those figures through a full season we come up with something in the neighborhood of 35 goals for Pouliot, 42 for Gionta and 25 goals and 94 points for Gomez.
But then Pouliot’s game inexplicably went cold. From March 9th he scored one goal in the season’s final 14 games and none through his 18 playoff games. Things haven’t changed, judging the first six games of the season.
Now you see the critical problem Jacques Martin faces. Auditions for the job continue. Gomez had it right at the team’s Bell Centre practice today –
“We’re having tryouts at the other rink. Just for you guys. You should try your luck.”