Momentum is something that many a sports announcer and prognosticator waxes philosophical about. They make it out to be the most important thing since sliced bread. Time and time again it shows itself to add up to a ball of string meaning nothing all that substantial. I start off with this due to the fact that the Montreal Canadiens have had an up and down season and it seems like momentum is nothing but hooey. Montreal was coming into the game against the New Jersey Devils off what was probably their best game of the season in a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. You would think that the fact that they held the one of the top 3 teams in the league to one goal and a mere 20 shots on net would have the team on a high they would have momentum and confidence. It was Montreal at the top of their game and showing that for one game at least that they are capable of competing with the big boys. That all came crashing down on Tuesday night with a flat effort against the Devils.
Once again the Canadiens were going into a game one forward short. When David Desharnais came down with the flu Michel Therrien decided to dress 7 defencemen. Now, I’m not sure if that was his decision or general manager Marc Bergevin’s. For some time now Montreal has not had even one extra forward available due to the injury to Ryan White. There has got to be at least one guy from Hamilton they could bring up. Michael Blunden? Louis Leblanc? Patrick Holland? Gabriel Dumont? Christian Thomas? I think any of those guys would have been more useful than an extra defenceman.
Because of Desharnais’ absence several lines had a different look to them. Daniel Brière was centering a line with Rene Bourque and Brandon Prust on the wings. Lars Eller was moved up to take Desharnais’ place on the line with Brandon Gallagher and Max Pacioretty. As far as goaltenders went, Carey Price was facing off against Martin Brodeur. On the minds of most was the question of whether this would be Brodeur’s last game at the Bell Centre. This, the last game of the season between Montreal and New Jersey, was his 70th career game against Montreal and Brodeur was looking for his 20th victory at the Bell Centre.
Several experts feared that the after the test against the Blackhawks that this would be an emotional letdown for Montreal. Montreal could not fall into the trap of underestimating the Devils. Over the last 16 games versus Montreal, New Jersey had a record of 12-3-1, so they have gotten the better of the bleu-blanc-rouge over the past few seasons. To make use of the so-called momentum built up from their previous game, Montreal would have to get off to a fast start against the Devils.
That is exactly what they did when at the 7:00 mark they scored. Pacioretty scored his 20th goal of the season with a wrist shot high on the glove side that Brodeur looked a little weak on. Pacioretty does have a strong shot, but an NHL goalie should not let a wrist shot from the top of the circle beat him no matter the shooter. Pacioretty is on a hot streak as he has 8 goals in the team’s last 12 games. These first 7 minutes of the 1st period were the only time that Montreal was in the game.
New Jersey took over control of the game from Pacioretty’s goal on. There were long sequences in between whistles and that is typical of games involving the Devils. Starting at 17:23 of the 1st period and spanning the next 6 minutes the Devils put 3 goals past Price and the game was all but over.
Using his large frame and strength Jaromir Jagr scored a goal (his 14th of the season) from the slot as Price had a lot of bodies in front of him. The goal moved Jagr ahead of Mark Messier into 7th place overall of goals in the NHL. At 1:20 of the 2nd period while on a power play due to a Josh Gorges interference penalty Eric Gélinas rifled a shot from the point in off the post to Price’s right. Price’s job was made more difficult due to the fact that for some reason Douglas Murray thought it wise to just stand in front of his own goaltender. I’m not sure how much Price saw of the shot. Gélinas, a rookie, is also known for his big shot. Capping it off with a 3rd goal at 4:02 Adam Henrique put the game pretty much out of reach for Montreal.
The third New Jersey goal really pointed out the inconsistency in the refereeing in the NHL. Earlier in the game Montreal’s Gallagher had been given a minor penalty when he lightly (he’s a small guy!) bumped into Brodeur. On Henrique’s goal Ryan Clowe was all over Price impeding him from having a go at Henrique’s shot. Inconsistency! A bit later Dainius Zubrus ran into Price knocking him in the head and again no call. It was enough of a knock that Zubrus inquired about Price’s state during the next stoppage in play. Start the scratching of the heads.
Frustration with the refs and league continued when at 8:30 Montreal thought they had scored a 2nd goal only to have it called off. After video review in Toronto the goal was called back because they judged that goal scorer Gallagher kicked the puck into the Devils’ goal. It was the wrong call. Gallagher was only turning around and the puck hit his leg in the process. His skate never left the ice nor was there a distinct kicking motion. Start the conspiracy theories as Montreal has had about a half dozen goals called off over the past dozen games.
New Jersey does not have a regulation loss this season when leading after 2 periods. Sigh… This is because they are excellent at winning battles along the boards and are very disciplined within their system. Pacioretty had a good scoring chance early in the 3rd, but there was not much else for Montreal offensively. Both teams had very few shots in the 3rd (Montreal – 6, New Jersey – 2). New Jersey just bottled things up very hermetically. Therrien tried to get his team back in it when he pulled Price with 1:35 left in the game. This just resulted in a New Jersey empty net goal at 19:46 by Zubrus.
It has become increasingly clear that Montreal is a team that does well in open games, but has trouble in tight, physical games due to their lack of size. The coaching staff has to rethink the way it plays or Bergevin has to bring in some players that suits that style of play. Bigger bodies please!
Montreal’s next game is on the road in Ottawa versus the Senators on Thursday.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees – Greg Kimmerly and Tom Kowal
Linesmen – Don Henderson and Matt MacPherson
-Goals: 1st Period:
7:00: Montreal – Max Pacioretty assisted by Josh Gorges
17:23: New Jersey – Jaromir Jagr assisted by Dainius Zubrus and Adam Henrique
1:20: New Jersey – (pp) Eric Gélinas assisted by Jon Merrill and Ryan Clowe
4:02: New Jersey – Adam Henrique assisted by Ryan Clowe and Michael Ryder
19:46: New Jersey – (en) Dainius Zubrus assisted by Jaromir Jagr
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 30
New Jersey – 19
-3 Stars: 1) Martin Brodeur
2) Jaromir Jagr
3) Mark Fayne
-Final Score: Montreal – 1
New Jersey – 4