Montreal Canadiens center Scott Gomez practiced with his teammates for a second straight day and looks to be on his way to a return from an upper-body injury that has cost him the past 19 games.
He looked to be close to a return last month when he began practicing, but he was sent right back on the shelf when he re-aggravated the injury.
"I tried to rush it last time a little bit and there was a setback," Gomez said after Monday's skate, "so you don't want that to happen again."
Gomez skated on left wing on a line with David Desharnais and Erik Cole on Monday, taking the place of Max Pacioretty, who was home with the flu.
Interim coach Randy Cunneyworth said he was not sure whether or not Pacioretty would be back for Tuesday's game against the St. Louis Blues, but it is clear Gomez will not be ready in time.
"We're looking at it fairly soon, but he's not quite there," Cunneyworth said. "He's been working hard and it would be great to get him back."
The question is where Gomez would fit in the lineup when he is ready to play. The top three center spots are currently filled by Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and Lars Eller. While Desharnais and Eller would be the natural candidates to lose their spot to Gomez, both have been playing very well of late and each had more ice time than Plekanec in Montreal's 3-1 win against Tampa Bay on Saturday night.
"It's a nice problem to have," Cunneyworth said. "Any time you have an abundance of quality guys who can play well, decisions have to be made."
Gomez's performance on the ice coupled with his huge salary cap figure has not exactly made him a popular figure in Montreal. He has just 4 assists in 13 games this season, and dating back to the start of last season Gomez has 7 goals, 35 assists and a minus-18 rating in 94 games. Still, Cunneyworth sees him as an important part of his team's fortunes as it attempts to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
"I think he's a top-six guy with his skills and presence on the ice," Cunneyworth said. "That remains to be seen (where he plays in the lineup), it will come through his play. Any line we put him on, it will make it a more skilled group. If he's on the first line or the fourth line, he has to do what he does best."
This is one of the few times in Gomez's career he's missed a significant portion of the season to injury. Since his rookie season with the New Jersey Devils in 1999-2000 he has only missed more than six games in any given season on one occasion, when he played 72 games for the Devils in 2006-07. Having already missed 28 games, including a nine-game absence earlier this season, Gomez is guaranteed to establish a new career-low for games played.
"It's been a while since I sat out this much," Gomez said. "No one wants to be in this position, you just don't feel a part of it. It's a bad feeling, you don’t feel like you're contributing. You feel like you're in the way."