Montreal Canadiens vs. New Jersey Devils @ Bell Centre – February 19, 2012

It was a somber beginning to a rare Sunday night game at the Bell Centre and the ending wasn’t any happier.  The somber ending was due to another home loss by the Canadiens in an underwhelming game, but the beginning was due to the demonstration that while the minds behind the Canadiens cannot seem to assemble a winning side they do pre-game ceremonies with class and aplomb.

A touching pre-game homage to Gary Carter, who died this past Thursday at the age of 57 of brain cancer, demonstrated that when it comes to ceremonies the Montreal Canadiens don’t have many peers amongst professional sports teams.  From the moment the entire Canadiens team stepped on the ice for the pre-game skate all wearing #8 – Carter uniforms you knew it was going to be special. Even former Expos and present Canadiens’ mascot Youppi added to the ceremony. During the moment of silence, after a video presentation, Youppi conveyed the sadness we were all feeling when he bowed his head with his hand over his heart.  This and the entire ceremony really were indications of how Carter was loved in this city.  Gary Carter played 12 seasons for Nos Amours and was the first player in Cooperstown with an Expos cap.  Despite the fact that they took off their #8 shirts each player had a #8 on their helmet in honor of the fallen athlete.

Despite the delay to the scheduled 6 p.m. start the Habs seemed to have their legs going in the early part of the game.  Ten seconds in Scott Gomez, granted a rare insertion into the starting lineup, had a good scoring chance against his ex-teammate, Martin Brodeur.  Within the first minute of play Montreal had 3 shots on Brodeur.  This would be it pretty much for the period as they only mustered 1 other shot in the ensuing 19 minutes.

New Jersey, who many pundits predicted before the season would not be a playoff team, is in 6th place overall in the Eastern Division whereas Montreal is in 13th place with 58 points.  Before the game Montreal was only 6 points out of 8th place.  A win would have moved them to only 4 points behind the Maple Leafs.  It wasn’t to be, though.

The game was a typical Montreal-New Jersey one with very few scoring chances for either side.  Carey Price, who was definitely the busier goaltending in the 1st period having to make 11 saves, was forced to make a sparkling save on Patrik Elias midway through the period.  Brodeur, on the other hand, could have spent most of the period leaning on his stick a la Ken Dryden.  The closest that Montreal would come after their initial flurry was a shot from the point by PK Subban that Brodeur got his glove on, but it dribble past him towards the net.  Showing that he still has pretty good mobility, Brodeur reached back with his stick and gathered in the puck before it could go in.

New Jersey opened the scoring late in the period.  Rookie standout Adam Henrique won a draw off of Tomas Plekanec back to Ilya Kovalchuk, whose shot was deflected by Zach Parise in the slot.  The Henrique-Kovalchuk-Parise line has been on fire lately.  Price had no chance on the goal.

The only other “exciting” part of the 1st period was around the 13 minute mark when a Plekanec slapshot hit Devils’ defenceman Anton Volchenkov in the face/neck area.  He seemed alright after some initial worry though he did go to the dressing room with the training staff for some repairs. Volchenkov was back on the ice at the start of the 2nd period with a very swollen lip, but able to carry on.

In the 2nd Randy Cunneyworth began to juggle his lines a little in an effort to try to get some offense going.  The only offense ended up being a Devils’ goal with only 18 seconds left in the middle frame.  It was the result of another deflection and a bit of luck.  Elias took a shot from just inside the blue line and power forward David Clarkson seemed to try to get out of the way.  Unfortunately for the Canadiens the puck glanced off his thigh, changed directions and found its way past Price into the net.  Price was screened again by Clarkson and Subban.

A little bit of hope came back into the game after Montreal was given an early power play opportunity in the 3rd period.  Former Hab Dainius Zubrus was assessed a high sticking penalty after hitting Ryan White in the face.  In an effort to come back from a 2 goal deficit for the third time this week, Montreal cashed in with the man advantage.  Max Pacioretty became the first Canadien to reach the 25 goal mark this season with his goal at 1:46.  The goal also extended the point streak to 6 games for him and David Desharnais.

After the goal Erik Cole, with the trade of Hal Gill now wearing the “A” on his uniform, went to the Habs’ dressing room for the second time in game.  He came back to the bench a little while later, but seemed to have trouble walking.  Lower body injury?  Cole had one more trip to the dressing room in the 3rd period.  This guy is banged up and a real warrior.

The bit of hope lasted only roughly 8 minutes as the Devils sealed their victory with a goal by Matt Taormina, his first of the season.  The line of Plekanec-Rene Bourque-Mathieu Darche had a rough night as they were a combined -9 meaning they were on the ice for all 3 Devils’ goals.

The Devils have been playing really well since the All Star break.  They have been playing disciplined within coach Peter DeBoer’s system.  All that discipline resulted in a pretty boring game, but it is effective for the Devils, who with the victory moved into 4th place overall in the East.

The visitors frustrated Montreal in every facet of the game.  New Jersey seems to really like playing in Montreal.  They have won 8 straight games here.  New Jersey has a 12-2 record over the last 14 games in Montreal.  Their success begins with the man between the pipes.  Brodeur has a lifetime record of 42-18-5 with 9 shutouts against the Habs.  I bet Montreal players and management cannot wait until he retires.  Brodeur will be 40 on his next birthday.

Montreal’s next game is Tuesday night versus the Dallas Stars at the Bell Centre.

Game Stats:

-On-Ice Officials:  Referees:  Frederick L’Ecuyer and Tim Peel

Linesmen:  Pierre Champoux and Jean Morin

-Goals:  1st Period:

18 :03:  New Jersey – Zach Parise assisted by Adam Henrique and Ilya Kovalchuk

2nd Period:

19:42:  New Jersey – David Clarkson assisted by Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora

3rd Period:

1:46:  Montreal – (pp) Max Pacioretty assisted by David Desharnais and Tomas Kaberle

8:27:  New Jersey – Matt Taormina assisted by Dainius Zubrus and Mark Fayne

-Shots on Goal:  Montreal:  22

New Jersey:  25

-3 Stars:  1)  Martin Brodeur – New Jersey

2)  Zach Parise – New Jersey

3)  Max Pacioretty – Montreal

-Attendance:  21,273

-Final Score:  Montreal:  1

New Jersey:  3

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