BROSSARD, Que. – Scott Gomez is ready to get started on new season that he promises will be noticeably better than his miserable 2010-11 campaign.
The 31-year-old centre will be in the lineup for the first time in the pre-season when the Canadiens visit the Senators in Ottawa on Friday night.
A training camp “lower body” injury, which has been variously reported as a groin, a leg or an ankle and that he joked was a “pinkie” kept him out of the Canadiens’ exhibition losses to Dallas and Buffalo this week.
“I wouldn’t be out there if it was (still sore),” he said Thursday.
Gomez is Montreal’s highest paid player, with three years left on a contract with a US$7.3 million annual cap hit, but he hardly earned it last season when he produced a career low seven goals and 31 assists in 80 games. He was minus-15 to boot.
A day after Montreal was eliminated in the first round of playoffs in Game 7 overtime by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, Gomez admitted his season was unacceptable and vowed the weak performance would not happen again.
Instead of spending the entire off-season in his native Alaska, Gomez changed his summer workout routine.
“I just refocused, regrouped, and I’m ready to have fun again,” he said. “Everything’s done. I changed things up in my approach, cleared up my mind a bit and here we go.”
He skated in practice with his linemate for part of last season Max Pacioretty as well as eye-catching junior Brendan Gallagher. His usual right-winger, captain Brian Gionta, will not be in the lineup.
Gomez joked that the diminutive Gallagher “reminds me of a young Brian Gionta, but with legs.”
That drew a laugh from the captain.
“Obviously, the comparisons are with size,” said five-foot-seven Gionta of the five-foot-eight Gallagher. “He plays a smart game and he’s pretty quick and shifty out there.
“In the same breath, he’s still a young kid. We’ll bring him along good and, if you guys (reporters) don’t put to much pressure on him, he’ll be fine.”
Gomez had his best moments last season after Pacioretty was called up from AHL Hamilton until the power winger’s season ended with a collision with a Bell Centre stanchion that left him with a concussion and fractured vertebra. Pacioretty has healed and is slated to play a second straight exhibition game.
Coach Jacques Martin is taking a long look at Gallagher before he returns to the junior Vancouver Giants, but he is expected to reunite Gomez with Gionta and Pacioretty before the end of camp.
“Like he said, last year’s behind him and I think he’s got a new approach, a new attitude,” Gionta said of Gomez, his linemate with New Jersey earlier in his career. “Every year a new season starts and it’s nice.
“You can get away from things in the summer and refocus. I think he’s done that. He looks fresh now and he’s excited for the season and getting back into that groove.”
Carey Price, who allowed three goals in the first period of his pre-season debut, is to play in Ottawa.
It will be a third start in as many games for six-foot-four Andreas Engqvist, who is battling for a job as a checking centre. One of his chief rivals, Gabriel Dumont, will also be in the lineup. Both played in Hamilton last season.
“What they want from me is the defensive part,” said 23-year-old Engqvist. “I’ll do whatever. I don’t mind that role at all.”
The five-foot-10 Dumont was a consistent scorer in junior hockey with Drummondville, but had only five in 64 games in his first year as a pro. However, he may have more offensive potential than Engqvist, who had 10 goals in Hamilton and none in a three-game stint in Montreal.
Both fit what the Canadiens want in that they are right-hand shots “like (Jeff) Halpern last year,” said Martin.
He called Engqvist “a player who is good defensively. He’s good on penalty killing and (Wednesday) night, he stood out on faceoffs. You have to keep an open mind and as the camp goes on and the competition gets better we’ll have a better idea about him.”
Other NHL players in the lineup include P.K. Subban, Hal Gill, Yannick Weber, Mathieu Darche and Erik Cole. The Senators pay a return visit to Montreal on Saturday night.
Martin said defence prospect Brendon Nash had shoulder surgery on Wednesday and will be out indefinitely. Forward David Desharnais is also out with a lower body injury.