Captain Gionta Leading Habs by Example
Most of you (especially the ones that bet against me) will likely remember over the summer when discussions about who would get the "C" for the Montreal Canadiens as their next captain were running rampant, my first choice was decidedly defenseman Josh Gorges.
To me, he screamed youth, future, consistency and hard work. All the things that I would want as captain of my team, especially in this new NHL. Captains all around the league are getting younger. It's the changing of the guard. Ovechkin in Washington, Crosby in Pittsburgh, Toews in Chicago, Getzlaf in Anaheim, Ladd in Atlanta, Staal in Carolina, the proof is right in front of our eyes. Guys like Alfredsson, Iginla, Lidstrom, they're on their way out, and the clear choice for their replacements are the younger guys.
By no means am I trying to compare Josh Gorges or anyone on the Montreal Canadiens roster to the players above, but you can't deny that the average age of the NHL captain is getting younger. Granted, as mentioned, unless he had the captaincy, Gorges would likely never be in the same sentence as any of those players, but you get my point. With this new Canadiens' team like likely isn't done changing, I wanted someone who represented a positive future for the team to represent it with the captaincy as well.
Well, obviously, the organization wouldn't exactly see things the same way I did. They announced Brian Gionta as the new captain of the team, on TCL's one-year anniversary back in September. But that was okay with me. Brian Gionta was my second choice for the captaincy, and he was a player that embodies hard work and a strive for excellence as much as I thought Josh Gorges did. A solid worker who escapes the shortfalls (no pun intended) of his stature by being afraid of literally nothing, Gionta would go toe-to-toe with just about anyone in the league if it gave an edge to his team.
The move to make Gionta the captain of this storied franchise actually turned some heads, both in and out of the city. There was obviously the expected (but surprisingly minor) outcry of Gionta's non-frenchness. But many outside of the city, who didn't follow the team and didn't really know Gionta saw this as a questionable move. There are a lot of people who think that a captain needs to be the team's best player, something that has seemingly become a trend for a few teams lately, since the appointment of Sidney Crosby as the Pens' captain a few years ago. There are people who think that the captain needs to be incredibly talented, and capable of single-handedly winning Stanley Cups and scoring trophies.
That doesn't make any sense to me. How quickly people forget the legacy of Saku Koivu. Don't worry, I'm not going to go on another tirade on Koivu's career, but he is worth mentioning here. So much so that you can't help but bring up comparables with Gionta. Foreign players in a complicated hockey market and community, both are small, soft-spoken, hard working players that never let anything get in their way, that never give up and that will give immeasurable amounts of percentage points to their teams in order to win. Players that have had to over overcome a tremendous amount of adversity to gain their stature in their league, and command respect amongst their peers. Many might not want to admit it, but Saku Koivu and Brian Gionta, especially on this team, are very similar people and players.
But of course, Koivu is long gone, and there's nothing we can do about that. I respect him tremendously as a person and a player, and appreciate everything he did for Montreal and the Habs, but the team moved on in the summer in 2009, and the rest of us will as well. Last summer, after a year to allow us to mull over Koivu's legacy, Jacques Martin and his staff finally decided it was time to name a new captain, and as mentioned, that was Gionta, the choice for many fans in the community, With all of that said, and nearly six months to see Gionta in action with the "C" on his chest, I have to admit that back when I picked Josh Gorges as the best candidate for Canadiens' next captain, I may have been wrong. That's right. George Prax is admitting that he was wrong!
Gorges is a great player, one of my favorites on the team. It's a shame his season had to end early with his knee injury, because he was a big part of this team and a very underrated player. But in the end, he's just a kid from BC who loves playing hockey. Definitely not a bad thing, but really, there's something I can't put my finger on about him with a "C" on his jersey right now that wouldn't sit right with me, again, despite what I said a few months ago.
The type of player that Brian Gionta is, however, is the type of player that takes these opportunities and proves you wrong himself. And I have to say, through 52 games of the regular season, Gionta has finally 100% won me over.
Not that I didn't believe in him earlier, but after what he accomplished this week, in the last two games, both wins for the Habs, there is no way I will ever dispute the legitimacy of his captaincy, or the type of player he is or what Brian Gionta is capable of.
Flash back to Tuesday night. The Canadiens are coming off a week without any action. Carey Price is tired from the all-star weekend festivities, his equipment arrived late in the day, which delayed his practice, and the team didn't seem to into it against the Washington Capitals on the road. Carey lefts a rare softey in, and then another goal. It's 2-0 caps, and after half a game of Caps domination, this one looked like it was ready to be mailed in.
Enter Brian Gionta. He doesn't want to lose, and he sees an opportunity. With most fans likely checking out at this point, Gionta nets his first goal of the night and his 17th of the season at 8:28 of the second. Less than nine minutes later, he gets his second of the game from a Tomas Plekanec feed, tying the game at 2. Fast forward to the inevitable shootout. Gionta is the first shooter out for the Habs, the hot hand, and he doesn't let the opportunity slip by him, potting one past goaltender Semyon Varlamov. The goal would be the only one of the shootout, giving the Canadiens the extra point and the 3-2 shootout victory against their Eastern rivals.
Less than 24-hours and blizzard later, the Canadiens are back on home turf. It's been a long day with travel, likely not a very good flight out of Washington, and they're set to play Florida. The Panthers played the night before in Toronto, losing 4-3 to the Leafs in a shootout, but escaped out of the city before the brunt of the big storm. They're pissed that they've lost, and they know that they generally have the Canadiens' number. With Alex Auld in nets against his former team, the Panthers take the early 1-0 lead against the Habs. In the second period, Jeff Halpern would tie it up with PK Subban picking up an assist.
Tomas Plekanec, Gionta's new centerman, would put the Habs up by one in the third. A few minutes later, Brian Gionta would score the Canadiens' third goal of the night, a lucky one, but a goal nonetheless, one that would stand up as the game winner when the dust had settled.
Last night's game wasn't exactly the one-man show that Gionta put on the night before, but you can't deny that Gionta's leadership had an affect on that game, especially after the Panthers went up by a goal. Tuesday night, the Capitals dominated, but Gionta worked hard and earned the Canadiens the win. On Wednesday, the rest of the team followed his lead, working hard to come back and earn the win.
Needless to say, coming back from early-game deficits hasn't exactly been the Canadiens' forte this season. But they've managed to do it two games in a row now, and they're finding ways to win. And Brian Gionta, with a team-high 19 goals, is leading the charge and earning the stripes on his collar in the process.
He's not the biggest captain in the league. Not the highest scoring either. He's not a 48 goalscorer, like he was for one season after the lockout. But he'll score way more goals than you would expect a guy his size to score, and he'll usually do it from places in around the net that many bigger guys have trouble even thinking about. He does the things the rest of the team should be doing, and he never gives up.
We've talked a lot about who I thought should have been the captain of the team back in the summer, as well as the former captain who I feel received the short end of the stick upon his departure from Montreal. But truth be told, today, right now, with the Canadiens battling for a playoff spot and to reveal their own identity, Brian Gionta personifies everything that they are, that they can be, and that they need to be. And I'm glad that I'm able to call him the Captain of my favorite hockey team.
Saturday and Sunday afternoon, the Canadiens will welcome the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers to the Bell Centre for their annual superbowl weekend matinées. Brian Gionta will go for his 200th career goal and his 20th of the season, and he may be able to do so against his lowly former team. A few days later, they will have another back-to-back, Wednesday against the Boston Bruins and then their final game against the Isles on Thursday, before a game against the Leafs next Saturday night.
With four points in the bank this week, and only two points behind the Bruins, do you think the Habs can overtake Boston for the division lead by next weekend? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!