It was a great day for a couple of New Jersey legends.
Bruce Springsteen’s new album came out on Tuesday.
And Martin Brodeur won another game at the Bell Centre.
Not such a great day for Canadiens’ fans, though.
They might love The Boss’s music.
And they might admire the Hall of Fame goaltending career of a St. Léonard homeboy – as evidenced by the warm applause for Brodeur’s selection as the game’s first star.
But by then, most fans had left the building.
And they did not go home happy.
Remember all that positive energy generated by the Saturday night conquest of Chicago?
Brodeur and the Devils saw to it that those feelings washed away like doggie doots in the mild weather Montreal’s been having.
The worst of it was the Canadiens did not play a bad game.
Having held the Stanley Cup champions to a season-low 20 shots in 65 minutes on Saturday, the Canadiens bettered that against New Jersey: 19 shots, including TWO in the third period.
The Devils were, however, opportunistic. The visitors scored three goals on their first 10 shots.
Let’s not let that .700 save percentage cheer up what few Carey Price-haters we have left at HIO. Price could not be faulted for any of the goals, each of which was scored with Devils immovably parked in and around his crease. And he made some key saves, including that slide-across stop on Michael Ryder in the photo.
This may come as a surprise to Canadiens forwards, but NHL rules permit proximity to the blue paint. And sticking enough bodies there, as New Jersey did all night, enhances the chances of a puck finding its way to the back of the net.
Brendan Gallagher understands this. The diminutive Canadien has been a burr in the britches of opposing goaltenders since he joined the team last season.
Gallagher was called for interference on Brodeur three minutes into the game. And he was on the edge of the blue paint when His skate deflected a Lars Eller feed past Brodeur.
It was ruled a goal on the ice. But after video review – the duration of which suggested Toronto was going to break hearts in Montreal – it was ruled Gallagher had kicked the puck in.
Attention conspiracy theorists: the Canadiens have had SEVEN goals disallowed since Christmas. No one – not even the President of France – gets screwed that often.
But the zebras did not cost your Montreal Canadiens the game. No egregious fouls went uncalled, and the home team had three power-play opportunities.
For all the good that did.
The Canadiens have failed to score on their last 18 man advantages, a streak that’s lasted five games. The Canadiens’ most recent power-play goal was scored by Gallagher in the third period at Dallas on Jan. 2.
Since then: Zilch.
When the Devils’ Andy Greene went off for interference lathe in the first period, the Canadiens’ PP actually showed signs of life. There was more movement from Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban at the points, with Markov penetrating down the left side and Subban moving to the centre of the blueline to shoot and feed the puck down low.
The problem, to my eyes, is lack of net presence. The Canadiens throw the biscuit around on the perimeter like what a caller to Ron Fournier’s show called “the Harlem Globetrotters of hockey.” No one, however, was willing to do a Shaquille O’Neal on Brodeur..
With David Desharnais out of the lineup with the flu, Lars Eller had 1:51 of power-play time. Fine. You need a centre; and while Eller lacks DD’s playmaking finesse, he’s a battler who works hard down low.
That quality has rarely been attributed to Rene Bourque, who had two minutes of PP time, prompting Sun hockey columnist Chris Stevenson to tweet Like that McDonald’s commercial: Rene Bourque on the Montreal power play. Whaaaaat?
Know what I’d try on the power-play?
Stick a big body – Douglas Murray or George Parros, perhaps – on the lip of the crease. Philadelphia used to do it with Chris Pronger before his injury. The Bruins do it with Chara.
It’s fine to have Daniel Brière channeling Gretzky from behind the net. But unless you get some big bodies in the goaltender’s kitchen, the PP will continue to sputter.
And that will spell trouble for a team that has trouble scoring at even-strength.
Precisely how much trouble will be gauged in the Canadiens’ next two games, in Ottawa Thursday night and at the ACC on Saturday.
Like the Devils, the Senators and Leafs are scrambling for Eastern Conference playoff berths. They’ll be playing desperate hockey, and woe betide our guys if they don’t match that intensity.