Having dug itself into a deep hole virtually from the opening game of the season – a 2-0 loss in Toronto that would launch a 1-5-2 run in early October – the Canadiens have no margin for late-season error.
The loss to New Jersey left the Canadiens six points south of the postseason cutoff line, with 22 games to play.
After Dallas visits the Bell Centre Tuesday night, the Canadiens will play seven of their next nine games on the road – many against teams as desperate for points as they, and including a tough western swing through Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Over dinner in the media lounge before the game, TSN 990 play-by-play announcer John Bartlett pointed out the Canadiens were 5-1-1 since the Roman Catholic diocese of Montreal placed a newspaper advertisement urging parishioners to pray for a playoff spot.
Maybe the Church doesn’t like Sunday games.
There was certainly no divine intervention against the Devils.
The names on the jerseys change, but it’s the same old New Jersey team – featuring the incomparable Martin F. Brodeur – that plays a defensive system the Canadiens are not able to crack.
The key stat was blocked shots. Forming the usual protective wall around Brodeur, the Devils blocked 33 shots. Defencemen Andy Greene and Anton Volchenkov had NINE blocks each – including one the tough Russian blocked with his face.
There are no statistics kept for blocked passes or rushed decisions. If there were, those are two other areas in which New Jersey was able to dominate.
The Canadiens could not complete a pass that travelled more than 10 feet. They kept trying, however, and forcing the pucks through a forest of white jerseys prevented the home team from building up any rhythm or flow to their game.
The Devils’ offensive zone pressure – particularly against undersized defencemen Raphael Diaz and Yannick Weber produced rushed plays and turnovers. Then, once the puck was bouncing around the Canadiens’ zone, New Jerseys forwards were able to pounce and take advantage of traffic in front of Carey Price.
No fewer than 13 Devils were on the ice for goals and finished in the plus column. No one was a minus.
The Canadiens shutdown line – Tomas Plekanec centring Rene Bourque and Mathieu Darche – had a miserable game. They were on for every New Jersey goal. Defencemen Chris Campoli, Tomas Kaberle, Josh Gorges, P.K. Subban and Weber were all in the minus column, as well.
The Canadiens top scoring line … OK, their ONLY scoring line was largely ineffective. Erik Cole is playing hurt, and it shows. David Desharnais had no SoG, and Max Pacioretty had five shots blocked but scored on the power-play to make it a one-goal game for a while in the third period.
Hopes for a comeback fizzled, however, and the Bell Centre crowd lapsed back into the silence that had enshrouded the building since the emotion of a superb tribute to Gary Carter.
The Canadiens went almost 18 minutes without a shot in the first period. A second period drought lasted more than six minutes.
Scott Gomez’s line, with Ryan White and a very energetic Andrei Kostitsyn, had some aggressive shifts. But at no point did it appear as though the Canadiens would mount a surge that would turn the momentum of the game decisively in their favour.
A fourth-place team, with 72 points in the standings, beat a 13th-place team that is stuck on 58, facing a whack of road games and running out of track.
• In hi Nashville debut, Hal Gill played 16:23 – all at even-strength – blocked two shots and was plus-2 in the Predators’ 3-2 win.