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For his part, Gainey feels a little like the last convertible. After having played seven years on a line with Jarvis, he now skates with fiery Center Keith Acton, Montreal's leading scorer in 1981-82. "Bob's had an adjustment to make this season," says Berry in quite an understatement. Recently Berry has put Napier, Montreal's third-leading scorer last season, on Gainey's and Acton's right wing. "With Jarvis there were always two of us who concentrated on defense," says Gainey, "so we'd get whoever was playing our right wing to change to our style. Now I have to try to adapt to my linemates' game."
It hasn't been easy. Gainey will never be a goal scorer. His single-season high is 23, and even playing with Acton and Napier, he had had only nine goals in 45 games. "My offensive skills have always been lacking—my shot, the ability to see an offensive play under pressure, good offensive positioning," he says. "The team isn't asking me to score more goals, but you start to ask yourself, 'If Bob Gainey had scored a couple of goals in the playoffs last spring, might we have won?' "
Well, yes. But if the moon were a balloon, where would we find green cheese? Montreal's three postseason losses to Quebec came by scores of 3-2, 2-1 and 3-2. If anyone had scored a couple more goals, the Canadiens might have won. Gainey's game is keeping the other team's big scorers in check.
A defensive forward is typically viewed as someone who plods up and down—mostly down—his wing, getting in the way of wonderfully talented players like Mike Bossy and Marian Stastny. Gainey destroys this misconception. "An offensive player knows where to go to get the puck to score," he says, "but I know where to go when we don't have the puck to get it back. The Czechs do that well; they chase you all over the ice. You want to avoid passive hockey—simply waiting for the other team to give you the puck back."
Gainey, who's 6'2", 190 pounds, doesn't just skate up and down the ice; he seems to swoop, his long strides and long reach allowing him to cover not only his man but often another as well. On defense, says Gainey, you shouldn't strive for a three-on-three situation, but a 3�-on-three. "You're never really safe unless you outnumber the opponents around the puck," he says. In his own zone Gainey is always moving, covering a large triangle that extends from the left point to the slot to the left boards. "We used to play more of a zone defense than we do this year," he says. "A zone requires more experienced players, but it's a better system if you can work it. If a player's glued to his man, he doesn't take much responsibility for the puck, and the puck is really what we want."
In a 3-1 loss to the Nordiques on Jan. 4, Gainey was on the bench when a play that capsulizes Montreal's season occurred. It cost the Canadiens the game. The score was tied 1-1 in the third period, and Montreal had the puck in the neutral zone. As Berry watched in disbelief, the Canadiens began to retreat. Deeper and deeper they fell back, until, finally, the Quebec forecheckers had chased the Canadiens puckhandlers behind their own net. "If the rink hadn't ended there, we might have been back at the Chateau Frontenac," said Berry afterward. A Canadiens defenseman eventually coughed up the puck, and the Nordiques scored the winning goal—on a play that started at the red line with Montreal in possession.
Sound defensive hockey, once a trademark of the Canadiens, is all too often being ignored this season. It will cost them this spring. "It's tough to score five goals a game every night," says Gainey. "The pendulum has swung the other way for a while, but I've got to believe that it's going to swing back before long."
But probably not soon enough for this Montreal team.