Montreal - December 18, 2011 - Randy Cunneyworth, Randy Ladouceur and Pierre Groulx were behind the Canadiens bench Saturday night against the NJ Devils. Is this really the long awaited emergence of the three wise men who will lead the Habs to the promised land? Or a trio to be remembered as the least experienced bench bosses in NHL history? And anybody who saw this coming on opening night should head directly to Wall Street to help save America. Your work here is done.
Hal Gill. Yes, it was that kind of night. Should have ended the night +2 if not for the gaffe by Chris Campoli that led to the game winning goal and a terrible line change that saw Gill chasing the play that led to New Jersey's tying goal late in the second. And I'm sure Gill had plenty to say during the players' post game meeting, as did Josh Gorges.
The power play finally clicked 5 on 3 as PK Subban finally scored his second goal of the season - his first on the power play. Now it's Mike Cammalleri's turn. But the traditional 5 on 4 power play went scoreless against the #1 PK unit in the league.
The 3rd & 4th lines led the Habs on this night with Louis Leblanc again making a strong case to remain in the NHL. Mike Blunden seems to provide some positive energy whenever he's out there. He's got plenty in the tank since he again played under 3:00. And Lars Eller, in addition to scoring his 3rd goal of the season provided the quote of the year afterwards in describing yet another third period meltdown as "the same old s%&t".
Erik Cole. "We've under achieved all season". Accurate quote after hearing about the firing of Jacques Martin. But he sure picked a strange night to come up empty. No shots on goal and only one hit. Plus three penalties (one that led directly to a NJ goal) including a head shot on rookie defenseman Adam Larsson. Cole has been so good for so long can only assume he got this one out of his system.
Max Pacioretty. Taking a cue from Cole? No shots on goal and a terrible penalty in front of Martin Brodeur which led to the Dainius Zubrus back breaker midway through the third period. Early in game Pacioretty got tangled up with David Clarkson inside the Habs blue line while play continued up the ice. He was slow getting to the bench. Did Clarkson quiet him down?
The new coach decided 17:00 of ice time in the loss to Philadelphia wasn't enough for Mathieu Darche so he squeezed another three minutes out of the Habs # 52. WTF? I understand Travis Moen is hurt but any game plan that includes Darche getting more ice time (19:46) than Pacioretty (16:57), David Desharnais (16:57), Andrei Kostisyn (18:42), Cammalleri (17:35) and Cole (17:46) is a formula for failure. Forget 5 on 5, is Darche really that good of a penlaty killer (5:15)? He's been part of an excellent PK unit of late but he is not a better penalty killer than Petteri Nokelainen (3:00). He just isn't. The mystery continues.
The PK Unit. NJ power pay went 2 - 5 (40%).
The Canadiens have laid some real stinkers on home ice this season but none worse than the final 22 minutes Saturday against New Jersey. The Habs were hosting a Devils team that had played the night before. It was NJ that should have shown signs of fatigue in the third. Instead Montreal looked, at times, like an expansion team, unable to click on the simplest of passes, terribly out of sync and a step or two behind their opponents. It was a horror show that perhaps can be traced to Jacques Martin but not pinned on him. Montreal players actually appeared, at times, frozen with fear. Who would have thought that at this point they'd actually be looking forward to games in Boston and Chicago?
The latest third period meltdown started during the final moments of period number two when PK Subban dragged his ass to the bench on a line change while Hal Gill waited to jump on. In the meantime, David Clarkson found himself with all kinds of time and space to tee up a shot that beat Carey Price to the stick side. Gill was furious. (At this point let's pause for a nod of appreciation to the Devils who now feature five different players who have scored 10 or more goals this season, with Travis Zajac just getting started after returning to action for the first time this year Friday night. That's more players who have hit double figures than any team in the NHL. The Devils.) Just how fragile are the Canadiens right now? Well, you know what they say about those late period goals in a close game. Clarkson's goal off that poor line change came at 18:26 of the second. First minute of the third here comes Lars Eller galloping towards Brodeur when - BANG! - he gets introduced to the skating tank that is Anton Volchenkov. 30 seconds later Campoli either can't find anybody to pass to or panics or both and Price is left defenseless as Peter Sykora and Patrick Elias imitate a skills competition and complete a 2 on 0 with Elias becoming the all time leading goal scorer in Devils history. At that point Bell Centre security could have (should have?) turned out the lights.
The Montreal Canadiens now sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference. True enough, they are four points out of 6th (NJ - thats how important this one was) but with five teams to climb over and the 13th place team just three points back with a game in hand (objects in the mirror are closer than they appear) the big picture is starting to shrink. If there is a promised land to reach it's going to take more than three wise men to get there. A minor miracle would help. But just ask Tim Tebow. You can't always get what you want.