About this afternoon …

I know this is hard for Montreal Canadiens fans, but can we just admit the New Jersey Devils had a solid game plan and executed it to near perfection?

It used to happen on a regular basis when the Canadiens played the Devils.

This time around, the visitors only needed Martin (he didn’t earn an F. today) Brodeur for 20 minutes.

By the time the future Hall of Famer left the game with what looked like a knee injury, the Devils led 2-0 and were on their way to winning the Jacques vs Jacques systems war, largely on the strength of size, hustle and hard work.

I thought Ilya Kovalchuk set the tone early with three hits on P.K. Subban during his first shift. This was an indication the Canadiens defence would be under pressure – from bruisers like Dainus Zubrus, Jason Arnott and David Clarkson – and New Jersey was able to induce stress in all three zones.

Lemaire did not like the conditioning level of the team he took over from John MacLean. So the new old coach ran what was, in effect, a training camp in mid-season; and the result is a Devils team that will skate, hit and contest every inch of the ice.

The Canadiens could not get any flow going. Zone clearances were pressured, hurried and often ill-advised. Passes were bouncing off skates. And clearing was just the first step; advancing the puck through the neutral zone was another challenge complicated by white jerseys that seemed to converge in a heartbeat, reducing time and cutting off space.

This is what New Jersey used to do in the glory years.

Minus Zach Parise and with an aging legend in nets, Lemaire has them doing it again.

The good news: the Canadiens don’t play the Devils again until April 2. They have become a VERY tough out.


It’s funny: Philadelphia sits atop the Eastern Conference standings and New Jersey is near the bottom.

But the Flyers and Devils are two teams that give the Canadiens fits.

I don’t know what the Canadiens can do to beat the Flyers. But against the less-talented Devils, matching their compete level would be a start.

The Canadiens began the game sluggishly. By the second period, they were a three-line team, with Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez trading wingers in an effort to get some sustained offence going. DD, Mathieu Darche and Tom Pyatt ended up playing single-digit minutes.

Gomez, who set up the only goal, played a solid game. Perhaps his jittery and unpredictable passing style was more of a challenge to New Jersey’s tight checking scheme than Plekanec’s more studied techniques.

Pleks had six shots on goal. But I thought NJ pressure stifled his playmaking.

Kovalchuk matched Pleks’s shot total, played 25:10 – high for both teams – and scored twice.

Kovy II’s second goal came off a ruling I’d never seen applied: With Carey Price on the bench, Kovalchuk was breaking away and was hooked by P.K. Subban before releasing a shot that hit the post.

Rather than award a penalty shot on en empty net, Kovalchuk was credited with a goal. Weird one.

Fans booed Kovalchuk. Probably because of the $$$. Like any of the boo birds would turn down a raise … which might be offered these schmucks if their bosses thought Earth was about to be hit by an asteroid.

Kovalchuk has no personal history with anyone on the Canadiens’ roster or in the organization. It’s stupid to boo him, like it’s stupid to boo Zdeno Chara and Daniel Brière.

Montreal fans like to think of themselves as the best, most knowledgeable and sophisticated in the league.

The Bell Centre is supposed to be the La Scala of hockey. But in Milan, they throw rotten vegetables at bad singers, not at great ones.

No one ever mistook the TD North Garden for a great house of culture. The Canadiens are there Wednesday for a four-pointer with the Bruins.

I’m not holding my breath on Mike Cammalleri, but maybe James Wisniewski will be back. That would allow Jacques Martin to restore the Alexandre Picard-less defence pairings that were working so well.

•  •  •

Guest Comment from Coach K:

Not a bad game really.  This is what I saw…

  • A
    Habs team that was flat for the first 10 minutes-but also a team that
    just played a hard won game less than 24 hours before.  So in fairness
    not a totally unexpected outcome.
  • A team that once awake,
    contested every puck but couldn’t get the puck to bounce thier way. 
    Again, sometimes you get the breaks other times not so much.  Probably
    evens out over the course of a season.
  • The youth on the team
    played well under relentless pressure – Price included.  The vets, not
    so much and looked really flat in their own end.  It was a game with
    playoff intensity at certain points.
  • I also noticed that the
    Habs choice of shot selection on dump ins left a lot to be desired. 
    Hard rim arounds with les boys overloading the side where the puck
    should be coming around were consistently overloaded by the Devils
    instead.  Essentially a turnover in the O-zone.  When that happens you
    have to change your approach if you want to come up with the puck.  Our
    guys-coaches included, didn’t adjust until the 3rd period.
  • Obstruction
    hockey is back.  I saw a Devils team that was permitted subtle hooks,
    picks and a lot of quick but effective holds as the Montreal players
    attempted to move with the puck through the neutral zone.  These tactics
    made it easy for the Devils to get to get away with it and get to the
    puck first on any dump in.
  • The root-cause of the obstruction was
    poor positional play (couldn’t see the foul) or just plain laziness of
    the officiating team.  Unacceptable by any standard.

sure the coaches will watch video of this game to learn how to counter
this next time so no real need to worry.  That said, if I were the
coaches or GM, I’d be screaming about the quality of the reffing and
asking why Jersey is still allowed to get away with that obstruction

No matter what, if I’m coaching I tell them file it away as a learning experience and look forward.

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