In an era of 4 lines, healthy scratches and many injuries; keeping one line together for an extended period of time doesn’t happen as often as it used to. This year’s edition of the Montreal Canadiens is a bit of an exception. For a large part of the first half of the year, Tomas Plekanec centered Mike Cammlleri and Andrei Kostitsyn to form Montreal’s top line and one that was generating a lot of buzz around the league. With Cammalleri injured, a new line has stepped up and is now wreaking some havoc on their opponents. Brian Gionta, Benoit Pouliot and Scott Gomez have come together to form the GPS line; a trio composed of three key elements (speed, size and vision) that are greatly contributing to the tremendous chemistry.
Brian Gionta was out for an extended period of time with an injury so finding the right combination of players for him to play with wasn’t something that could have happened overnight. Gionta scores a lot of goals in part because of his good shot, but his game is all about speed. His acceleration forces defenders to respect his ability to beat them, resulting in more time and space to operate. His quickness also allows him to find open spots and create passing lanes in the offensive zone. Watch how often he can get away from a D and set himself up for a scoring chance.
Benoit Pouliot was a failed experiment in Minnesota and was shipped to Montreal in exchange for Guillaume Latendresse (don’t get me started!). Part of the problem was that the Wild tried to cultivate him as a center, although he did get some minutes at LW, but it is obvious watching Pouliot that while his skating is good relative to his size, he doesn’t have a strong enough stride to be all over the ice like a center needs to be. Moving him to the wing has allowed him to use his size to his advantage. He forechecks hard, he retrieves loose pucks, he forces turnovers and he goes to the net. By doing so, the lack of size in Gionta and Gomez is not exposed; allowing them more time and space to make plays.
Scott Gomez had a rough start to the season. The expectations that come from earning $7 million in a cap era can do that to you. He had an odd propensity to turn over the puck quite often, and was consequently not putting up many points. He has been much better since the return of Gionta, in part because they played together for so long in New Jersey that they are comfortable with each other. You can knock Gomez for his turnovers and for his lack of scoring output, but you can’t knock his vision. Scott Gomez has exceptional hockey sense that allows him to mentally slow down the game and be consistently on the mark with his passes. When Gomez is on his game and not being hampered by too many giveaways, his puck possession style enables him to protect the puck for an extended period of time (in hockey that means 4-5 seconds) which gives his linemates more space to get opened and more time to find that scoring area.
The term “time and space” was used 3 different times, because that’s what hockey is all about. The speed of the game is so fast that for a line to be successful, they all need one thing in common, which is the ability to create both. Not only is the name GPS appropriate because it is an acronym of their names, it is also a reference to their ability to navigate the offensive zone and find each other. Gomez has 2 Gs and 6 As in his last 4 games; Gionta has 3 Gs and 2 As and Pouliot has 2 Gs and 2 As. The encouraging thing is that one of Montreal’s problem in recent years has been the lack of secondary scoring. If this line can continue to roll and Mike Cammalleri can rediscover chemistry with Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn (nickname = the PAC Men?) upon his return from injury, the Habs might not be such an easy opponent in the playoffs.
About the Author
Written by Corey Krakower
I am the Director of NHL Content & Habs writer for ProSportsBlogging.com; I have spent 8 seasons behind the bench as a minor hockey coach; and I am the future GM of the Montreal Canadiens (according to my mom). I spend my days managing the Harrow Sports brand in my hometown of Montreal and I moonlight as a Hockey Advisor for Pi Athlete Management. Most importantly, I'll throw anyone under the bus for a laugh.