The Bell Centre faithful were on their feet at the conclusion of last night’s game against the New Jersey Devils.
However, it wasn’t as a result of anything the Canadiens did.
No, Habs’ fans were celebrating the heroics of Devils’ goaltender Martin Brodeur, who backstopped New Jersey to a 3-1 victory: career win number 551 for Brodeur, who is now tied for top spot, all-time, in that category, alongside Patrick Roy, who was in the house for the occasion.
Yes, you could say that Habs’ fans showed a lot of class by giving Brodeur, the pride and joy of St. Leonard, a standing ovation when this one was over. But, knowing Habs fans, by cheering for Brodeur, they were also rubbing salt in the wound following a performance by the Canadiens which saw them outhustled, outplayed, and outshot, 48-23.
The boo birds let the Canadiens have it after Jamie Langenbrunner scored Jersey’s third goal of the night midway through the third period to seal the deal. Some might suggest that Habs’ fans were chanting “JAR-O, JAR-O” when this one was over, as Jaroslav Halak overcame a shaky first period to play some splendid hockey. However, I’m here to tell you that, to these ears, Habs’ fans were chanting “CAR-BO, CAR-BO” at the conclusion of this one.
The man who replaced Guy Carbonneau behind the bench, GM Bob Gainey, watched his team fall to 1-1-1 since taking over from ice level. A record of .500, which, as Gainey so accurately pointed out, will not cut it when it comes to Montreal’s efforts to solidify a playoff spot in the ever-tightening Eastern Conference playoff race.
Last night, it was Men against Boys for most of the evening. The steady stream of penalties that Montreal took to open the game did the Canadiens’ absolutely no favours, with Patrick Elias and Brian Ralston opening with power-play goals. Tomas Plekanec got one back, his 20th of the season, and his 9th in 12 games since returning from a two-game suspension. But that’s as close as the Canadiens would get.
Chris Higgins? Lots of effort out there, but zero production.
Andrei Kostitsyn? Led the Habs with six shots on goal. Zero production. (Little brother Sergei, in the meantime, was busy making a case for himself last night, scoring a goal and adding two assists down on the farm to lead Hamilton to a 5-1 AHL victory over Manitoba.)
Linemates Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay? Invisible and flatfooted, particularly on the Langenbrunner goal, when they could not contain the New Jersey forwards who circled Halak like vultures. No shots on goal for either player. Zero production.
Once again, the Canadiens spent way too much time chasing down opposing players in their own zone, exposing older, slower players like Roman Hamrlik and Mathieu Schneider for what they are: old and slow. Although it’s ironic that veteran Patrice Brisebois, playing in his 1,000th career game, was Montreal’s most effective defenceman against the Devils; picking up the game’s second star, and an assist on the goal by Plekanec.
Despite two straight losses, the Canadiens, this morning, still find themselves in fifth place in the East. But do not be fooled by the optics of the situation. By this time, next week, they could just as easily be in 10th place.
And the last time I checked, only the top eight teams advance to post-season play.