BROSSARD, Que. – As Scott Gomez sees it, Montreal Canadiens teammate Andrei Markov didn’t suffer the severed tendon in his foot in a cut from goaltender Carey Price’s skate.
“Marky didn’t really get hurt in Toronto, I actually knifed him in the foot,” Gomez admitted Friday, without the slightest attempt to conceal that his confession was a joke.
But a joke was exactly how Gomez described a story that surfaced this week that said he had been in a fight at his home with teammate Sergei Kostitsyn after the Canadiens final pre-season game on Sept. 26. The unsourced report suggested that was why Kostitsyn was sent to AHL Hamilton.
Gomez says it was “complete B.S,” and that he was with Kostitsyn’s older brother Andrei when he first heard it on Thursday and both had a good laugh.
“It was kind of funny,” he said. “There’s absolutely no truth to it. But it is a good story. Everyone’s been calling. I guess that’s what happens here in Montreal. But, like I said, the Markov thing is true. He was at my house and I knifed him.”
There hasn’t been a lot to laugh about since Markov, the team’s best defenceman, was sidelined for up to four months when his foot was sliced open by Price’s skate during the Canadiens’ season-opening game in Toronto on Oct. 1.
But consecutive wins this week and a feeling that the team is starting to adjust to new coach Jacques Martin’s system lightened the mood considerably as the Canadiens skated at their suburban practice facility.
A 2-1 shootout win over Atlanta on Tuesday was followed by a 5-1 victory over the lowly New York Islanders on Thursday night – their first regulation time win in 17 games dating back to the final four regular season games of last season and a four-game sweep by Boston in the playoffs.
The wins ended a five-game losing streak and brought Montreal to 4-5-0 to start the season.
Next up on Saturday night are the New York Rangers, who traded Gomez and the final five years of his US$51.5 million contract to Montreal on June 30 for Chris Higgins and an exchange of prospects.
For Gomez, playing his old team is even less of a big deal than his alleged fight.
“It was different when I played against New Jersey for the first time because I’d been there so long,” said Gomez, who signed as a free agent with the Rangers in 2007 after seven seasons with the Devils. “I was only in New York a couple of years.”
The Anchorage, Alaska native had only 16 goals in each of his two seasons with the Rangers. A goal against the Islanders gave him two goals and three assists in his first nine games with the Canadiens.
Higgins has no goals and only two assists in his first 10 games with New York, which is 7-3-0 but has lost two in a row.
It was expected that it would take time for Montreal to jell with eight new players on the roster and a new coach.
Gomez has played mostly on the top line with fellow newcomers Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri. While the points have been slow to come, the trio has looked more dangerous in recent games. They accounted for 14 of Montreal’s 43 shots and two goals against the listless Islanders.
“As a line, we’re starting to feel the chemistry,” said Gomez. “We’re getting a lot of opportunities, but until we start putting them in on a nightly basis, you’re not satisfied.
“We’re starting to get to know each other, to feel where each guy is going to be, and we just have to keep improving on that.”
More promising is that after allowing an average of 36 shots against in their first four games, the Canadiens have allowed 21.6 shots per game in the last five, and never more than 23 in a game.
“The change came from the players,” said Martin. “No matter what system you play, the players have to buy into it.
“We’re starting to execute better, especially in our zone, and our forechecking is doing better so we spend less time in our zone.”
One beneficiary of stronger team play has been goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has picked up wins in the last two games, allowing one goal each time out, although he wasn’t tested by many tough shots.
Martin does not announce who will be in goal until the day of a game, but it is almost certain he will stay with Halak against the Rangers.
Price, the nominal No. 1 goalie, is 2-4-0 with a 3.36 goals-against average and a weak .886 save percentage, although he’s played in the tougher games. Halak is 2-1-0 with a 1.88 average and a .921 save percentage.
“We have two solid goaltenders,” said Gomez. “Now, Jaro’s playing great but before, Price was playing just as well.
“We probably weren’t playing that well during that streak, so the blame’s not on him at all.”
Price said he understood why Halak is getting the starts.
“You always want to be playing, but as long as the team’s winning, everyone’s got a smile on his face,” he said. “It’s whatever’s best for the team.
“Jaro’s playing well and we’re getting wins now. That’s what we need most. I can use this time to work in practice and get ready for my next start.”