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Gomez searching for previous form, faces former team

by Arpon Basu
MONTREAL -- Just about any game would be an opportune time for Scott Gomez to break out of an epic goal-scoring drought, but Saturday night against his former team, the New York Rangers, would probably be more ideal than most others.

Gomez's last goal dates back to Feb. 5, 2011, against these same Rangers in this same venue, a span of 46 regular season and playoff games without one.

"Well, (if) I keep shooting, hopefully that makes it go away," Gomez said Saturday about the drought. "It's not a lack of working. I just need a bounce to go in off someone. But my job is to get my wingers the puck and have them put it in. That's not going to change."

"I'm starting to get the timing back. I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent, but I'm good enough to go. The legs are there, it's just a matter of getting some points together and getting a bounce here or there to get it started." -- Scott Gomez

Meanwhile, on the other side Saturday night the Bell Centre crowd will likely be watching Ryan McDonagh log around 25 minutes of ice time on the Rangers' top defense pairing with Dan Girardi.

With the Canadiens defense in tatters – Hal Gill (infection), Jaroslav Spacek (upper body), Andrei Markov (knee) and Chris Campoli (hamstring) are all out – those fans who have grown frustrated with Gomez's lack of production may look at McDonagh and wonder what may have happened were he not included in the June 30, 2009 trade that brought Gomez from New York to Montreal.

The trade has been called one of the best in Rangers history.

In addition to grabbing McDonagh, the Rangers also signed Marian Gaborik with the space freed up by the departure of Gomez's $7.36 million annual cap hit, and they traded Chris Higgins (also acquired in the Gomez deal) to the Calgary Flames for Brandon Prust.

Two years later, the only player on the current Canadiens roster that came to the team as a result of that trade is Gomez.

McDonagh says he is too worried about trying to fill his role as a top-pairing defenseman in the absence of Marc Staal to be worried about who did or didn't win the trade.

"I'm not even 100 games into my career and I'm just trying to improve every day, so I'm not really thinking about who won the trade or whatever," McDonagh said. "It's not like that with me. It's just about improving every day and helping this team to get better."


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So far, McDonagh has done just that.

He says he was never approached and had no discussion at any point with coach John
Tortorella about essentially becoming Staal's replacement next to Dan Girardi.

"They put the pairings up and I was with Danny, and we just kind of let it ride," McDonagh said. "We obviously knew with the absence of Staal we'd all have to step up and I was just trying to do whatever I could to do that and help the team win. So far we're doing pretty good, but we miss him still."

McDonagh, 22 and playing his 57th career game Saturday night, had 26:59 of ice time his first game and has not dipped below 21:30 in any game this season. He is second on the team behind Girardi with 3:45 in shorthanded ice time per game, second behind Girardi in blocked shots with 31 and in spite of all the difficult minutes he's played, he's been credited with just seven giveaways all season.

"It's been pushed along really quickly on Ryan because of the injuries on our back end, but he has handled himself very well," Tortorella said. "One of the telling signs with Ryan is that if he makes a mistake, it does not get into his game, he forgets about it and moves on. This has been a great process for him in gaining some experience."

The solid play of McDonagh has only shone the spotlight even brighter on the struggles of Gomez in Montreal. Last season was by far the worst of Gomez's career with just seven goals, 31 assists and a team-worst minus-15 rating.

He vowed at the end of last season to work hard during the summer to make sure that didn't happen again, and Gomez did look good in the preseason. However he had just one assist and was minus-1 in his first five games before suffering a shoulder injury early in his sixth game.

That kept him out of action for nine games, a period during which the Canadiens went on a four-game winning streak and compiled an overall record of 5-3-1. Also over that span, young centers David Desharnais and Lars Eller improved their play dramatically, leading some in Montreal to wonder whether Gomez had lost his spot in the lineup.

Montreal is 2-1-1 since Gomez returned four games ago, but his production has remained quiet with one assist and a minus-3 rating in that span.

"I'm starting to get the timing back," Gomez said. "I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent, but I'm good enough to go. The legs are there, it's just a matter of getting some points together and getting a bounce here or there to get it started."

There would be no better time than Saturday night for Gomez to get such a bounce.
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