MONTREAL – On the one-year anniversary of his last NHL goal, Scott Gomez had plenty of people rooting for him to finally break the ice.
And for several moments on Sunday there was thought he might have in the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
“They wanted to make sure that they got the right goal and Scotty on the bench said he didn’t think it did (go off him),” Mathieu Darche said of the goal that was ultimately confirmed as Tomas Plekanec’s 11th of the season. “We’re all hoping he’s going to score.”
Plekanec also had an assist and Carey Price made 23 saves for his third shutout of the season for the Canadiens.
It was a bounce-back effort that snapped a three-game slide for Montreal.
The Canadiens were blanked by the Washington Capitals a day earlier in Montreal’s traditional Super Bowl weekend matinees. Prior to the win, the Canadiens had dropped five straight on Super Bowl Sunday.
Max Pacioretty and Alexei Emelin also scored for the Canadiens (20-24-9), who recorded just their 10th home win.
Gomez has been the brunt of plenty of criticism, the combination of a hefty contract and low offensive production. A website was created to celebrate his next goal and fans in the crowd sang “Bonne fete” to Gomez throughout the afternoon in honour of the anniversary.
“He’s not trying not to score, he’s working to score. He’s shooting more this year than I’ve ever seen him shoot. We’re behind him,” Darche said. “It’s not easy but he’s been great. All the guys are pulling for him.”
Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec stopped 20 shots in the loss. The Jets (24-24-6) dropped their second straight and were shut out for the second time in their last five games. They have scored just five goals in that stretch.
“What’s happening with our team is it’s a four-game road trip but in essence for us it’s a little bit longer than that. I think that’s what’s showing up,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “When I look at the energy level, it looks like we’ve been on the road for two weeks.”
The Jets started off well, outshooting the Canadiens early on. But the inability to convert on a first period power play—on which they went 0-for-5 on the day—swung the momentum.
“They took the game up and our game went down” Noel said. “And we didn’t do a lot of things well through the two periods at all. We didn’t win battles, we looked mentally fatigued and we looked like we were worn down.
“We didn’t play very well.”
The Canadiens were pleased with their effort, limiting Winnipeg to just 23 shots and minimal quality scoring chances. And when the Jets pushed early in the third, Price was there to shut the door, including key saves on Antti Miettinen.
“With a goalie like that, we know that if we get a few goals and we play the right way, if there’s breakdowns, Carey will be there to make the save,” Darche said. “But we can’t give those chances. That’s what’s been so frustrating about the season; we know when we do it we’ll be successful because we have the players to be successful and we don’t always do it.”
Pacioretty opened the scoring with his 19th of the season at 18:02 of the first.
Emelin doubled the Canadiens’ lead when he converted a perfect pass from Plekanec on a short-handed 2-on-1 at 7:20 of the second period.
Montreal’s beleaguered power play connected at 11:28 to give the Canadiens a 3-0 lead. Plekanec beat Pavelec with a shot from inside the blue-line, with Gomez providing the screen.
“I thought after the second goal our guys had a lot of confidence,” said Price. “After that, we didn’t give up, we didn’t relent or anything. We just kept on the pressure and we did a great job of battling for loose pucks and that was the biggest difference.”
Notes: After sitting out Saturday’s game as a healthy scratch, Canadiens defenceman Yannick Weber was back in the lineup in place of Raphael Diaz. … The Jets scratched forward Eric Fehr and defencemen Randy Jones and Mark Flood. … Canadiens rookie Aaron Palushaj earned his first NHL point in 20 games with an assist on Pacioretty’s goal.