Sunday brings us another oh-so-engaging contest between your Habs and the New Jersey Devils. While these contests do not always represent the most entertaining matchups that the league has to offer, hockey is hockey, and I for one wanna watch! Further, as the end of the schedule draws near, the intensity ratchets up a notch as teams struggle to capture each and every possible point to improve their fate and their place in the pecking order. It might, then, even be a decent game!
I do believe the roster members of the Montreal Canadiens when they express that they have not given up on the season. In general terms, the team is playing far better and achieving more desirable results than in the early stages of the season when it seemed that the Habs were a hopeless bunch absolutely incapable of competing in this league. In the 10 games since returning from the All Star Break, the franchise has won 5 and lost 5. Four of the 5 losses were decided in regulation time and the other loss was decided in the shootout. Of the 5 victories, 2 were won in the shootout. The roller coaster movements up and down the standings are still disturbing but there are quite a few of us who have been unable to completely write – off this group. And that may be a good thing, an encouraging thing. While it is frustrating to not know how to really feel about this club, at least we would be wrong to completely dismiss them. For those who need certainty in their lives, these must be troubling, troubling times!
The New Jersey Devils always represent a formidable opponent in the Canadiens’ quest for victory. Martin Brodeur has enjoyed uncanny success against the Habs. The fact that the legendary netminder has 42 career wins vs. Montreal, with 9 of those victories being earned as shutouts, is no less than extraordinary. Mind-boggling is another term that comes to mind. There is just something about Brodeur and the Devils that Montreal cannot seem to overcome. All things must come to an end, though, and no time like the present for Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge!!
Sunday’s game is the fourth regular season contest between these squads and may well represent the last time that these players face each other this year. In fact, given that an aging Marty Brodeur might retire at the end of the campaign, the game may be very significant in that this may be the final encounter between the CH and its arch-nemesis. I wonder if some form of tribute on the part of the Montreal Canadiens would be appropriate…i suppose that the lack of forthcoming information on the part of Brodeur reL his plans eliminates that possibility…
The Devils have won the last two contests in the season series while Montreal emerged victorious the first time that the organizations met on Dec. 10th. The visitors come into our hockey mecca ranking 6th in the Eastern Conference and riding a two-game winning streak. They are 7-1-2 in their last 10. Something very similar happened last season. They got off to a poor start but tore it up in the latter half Unfortunately for them it was not enough and they failed to qualify for post-season play. This year, things are looking a bit better on the ice. Above the playing surface, it would seem that fans have lost interest or faith or both. The team draws an average of 15, 511 fans per game which represents only 85% of the capacity at the Prudential Centre in Newark. The team ranks 24th out of 30 teams in terms of home-game attendance. Too bad…
The on-ice product probably deserves better than that. Three Devils forwards are within the top-30 as far as points are concerned. Ilya Kovalchuck ranks 12th with 57 points (25 goals and 32 assists), Patrick Elias is in 18th spot with 54 points (19 goals and 35 assists) while Zach Parise rounds it out with the 27th highest point production in the NHL with 50 (21 goals and 29 assists). While it seems from these stats that the Devils are significantly more offensive than the Habs, as a team they have scored only 2 more goals than the Canadiens (161-159). Defensively, the team has allowed 3 goals less than Montreal (158-161). Their goal differential, then is +3 while NOs Glorieux sit in the negative in this category at -2.
As far as special teams go, both of these teams excel in the penalty-kill. Montreal does hold the slightest of edges here but the squads rank 1st and 2nd respectively in this area. The powerplay as many of us know is an entirely different story. The Habs rank 28th with the extra man. Not great. Not great at all. A few more power play tallies here and there and no one would be worried about clinching a playoff spot. Jacques Martin was correct when he insisted that goaltending and special teams win hockey games. Where is he now?? The Devils, while not boasting the best powerplay in the league at least rank near the middle of the pack (17th) in terms of scoring when the opponent is shorthanded.
While 12 points and 7 berths separate these teams, the outcome, as with any NHL game is uncertain. Here is to hoping that Montreal ’ s desperation fuelled by fan support can combine, along with good coaching, to keep the playoff dream alive. Gentlemen of the Montreal Canadiens, i implore you to force Pierre Gauthier to re-think any inclination that he may have towards blowing up our talented group. I hope that you will fight and earn your right to keep your place on our roster. The wins will not come easy, though, especially not against the dreaded Devils. Know that and act accordingly. Be Perfect…
On a sidenote, i would like to congratulate Eric Cole. The brilliant, hard-working, forward was recognized for his leadership ability in being awarded the title of Alternate Captain for the remainder of the 2011-2012 season. If there is any player who deserves the honour more, i certainly haven’t met him. If this were my team, he would wear the C, but the A is good enough for now.
Go Habs Go!!!