NEW YORK –Lately, life is much better for Scott Gomez, after his trade to the Montreal Canadiens, than it has been for the New York Rangers, the team which traded him north of the border. The transition has been as smooth as could be expected, given that hockey is covered as fervently throughout Canada as soccer is in Europe.
“It wasn’t like I asked to go. I loved my time here,” Gomez said, before the two goals apiece by Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky lifted the Rangers to a much-needed 6-2 victory at Madison Square Garden last night.
“Having some familiarity with Brian [Gionta, who played with Gomez in New Jersey] and myself [the last two seasons in New York] has made his transition a little easier,” added Paul Mara, the bearded defenseman who moved on to Montreal after New York did not tender a free agent contract.
“Scotty has an infectious personality that everyone around him can enjoy.”
Except the Garden fans, who booed Gomez whenever he touched the puck. Apparently, they did not feel he was worthy of the $51.5 million, seven-year contract he signed on July 1, 2007.
Gomez, a playmaking center, had 58 points and a -2 rating in 77 games last season; it was his first negative campaign since 2001-02. Just one day before his second anniversary with the Rangers, he was jettisoned to Montreal, largely for Christopher Higgins. The money New York saved was ultimately used to sway free agent Marian Gaborik.
On this evening, Gomez and his mates, currently on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff race, encountered a Ranger squad that had tallied exactly one goal in its last three games.
Following consecutive shutout losses on Garden ice, New York dropped a 4-1 decision last night in St. Louis. Its lone scoring play featured Brian Boyle’s fourth goal and Aaron Voros’ second assist, which spoke volumes about the lack of overall scoring. That was all the Rangers had mustered over the last 172 minutes, of game time, or nearly three hours of real time since winning 3-1 in Boston on January 9.
Until tonight, when Callahan opened his career-best four-point game by tipping Marian Gaborik’s goalmouth pass behind Jaroslav Halak just 57 seconds into the second period. By the end of the stanza, Dubinsky had added two goals, including the Rangers’ fifth shorthanded tally of the season.
Gomez, whose personal four-game point streak was snapped, admitted to not “keeping tabs” on the Rangers’ helter-skelter season, instead looking to focus on what is required for the Canadiens to finish among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference.
“It just means every game is a playoff game. But, we’re just starting to get healthy, so we’ll take it from there.”
Coincidentally, there is exactly where his former team is also looking to finish.
[ John J. Buro is the author of “Open Court: A Year With the New York Knicks”, which is now available through www.opencourtbook.com. ]