Admittedly the back-and-forth with the Habs fans is more fun and not as mean-spirited as it can get with other teams' fanbases. Montreal's appeal across North America even drew three visiting Bruins fans, who sat in the row behind me. Other random fan sightings included a Stephane Quintal jersey (hopefully the guy didn't actually pay money for it) and a Boston College Brian Gionta jersey in 209. Well okay the latter isn't random since I know her and figured she would be there last night, but it's as good a way as any to lead into Gionta's return which was surprising on a number of levels.
First of all when the starting lineup was announced, Gionta got razzed about as badly as anyone and there were no divided loyalties like there were with Scott Clemmensen a while back. Then again, Clemmensen did well for us last year while Gionta's goal total declined each of the last four seasons after his team-record 48 in 2005-06, and clearly Devil fans weren't high on Gionta when he was still wearing the uniform so why should I have been surprised he got a chilly reception last night?
Still, I was to a degree. You gotta figure effort and class count for something, and Gionta was one of the few Devils still remaining from their 2003 Stanley Cup winners. Plus you could hardly fault him for taking Bob Gainey's insane contract offer. And though he's slowed down lately, Nicklas Bergfors seems more than capable of filling in Gionta's shoes, at least offensively so it's not like his departure left us in the lurch. Of course Scott Gomez got his requisite boos and jeering, as he might possibly be the only player in the league to somehow have three fanbases on his back to that extent, including his current team's.
Things got off to a weird start, as the group who sang the national anthems made O Canada! seem like a Christmas carol, and didn't do much better with the US anthem. Even the goalie sucks chant in 208-209 got off to a rocky start, as it got started with 'Hey Price, you suck!'...apparently someone didn't realize Jarsolav Halak was in goal last night for Montreal and has in fact been the main guy lately. Of course that got corrected later on, but it wouldn't be the last crowd snafu of the night.
After our power play continued its zero for the decade 'slump' (o for its last 23 after last night to be exact), the Devils caught a break when Jamie Langenbrunner found a streaking Parise wide open past center ice and he started this game the way he ended the teams' last tilt in Montreal, with a breakaway goal - though this one wasn't actually in shootout mode it might as well have been. Parise's goal at 5:16 was his 21st of the year with assists from the captain and Mike Mottau. Little did I realize that would be the only goal of the night.
Though the Devils led and looked the better team early, Montreal took control midway through the first and swarmed our embattled defense, breaking through at 16:10 when Gomez found a wide open Benoit Pouliot in the slot for the tying goal. Given the two teams' last confrontation at the Rock, the run-and-gun nature of the latter first period and early second was a little surprising and it didn't favor the offensively challenged Devils as Halak would make 31 saves in the game, but most weren't off of high-quality offensive chances.
As those of you who read this blog on a fairly consistent basis know, I love the 208-209 section on most nights, even when they're nonsensical they're lively and get the people around them into the game more than any t-shirt throwing guy merc (thankfully Cameron's a thing of the past, as NJay does that now). That said, they do annoy me at times with their anti-Jets stuff, which usually is confined to a 'J-E-T-S...suck, suck, suck'.
Last night however they did an elaborate knockoff of 'Let's Go Devils', only substituting Colts for Devils. Give me a C! Give me an O!...etc, etc. It made for a two and a half minute production that made me roll my eyes. If you hate the Jets that's fine, don't go out of your way to annoy half your fellow fans at a hockey game just because you people are bitter Giant, Dolphin and Cowboy backers who can't stand the attention the Jets are finally getting. Perhaps fittingly just as they were finishing the Let's Go Cooolts part of the chant, the Canadiens scored the lead goal when the immortal Mathieu Darche tipped in a Gionta slapshot at 4:35 of the second period. As I told one of the ringleaders of the chant after the period, just goes to show thou shalt not diss the Jets in the tri-state area!
After Darche's goal, there really was little action the rest of the second period as the Habs went into full trap mode, while the Devils' power play was inept for the second (and mercifully final) time of the night. Even Fraser's fight early in the third did little to change the momentum although the Devils did dominate in terms of shots, they still couldn't take advantage of their scoring chances. Early in the period I was beside myself when Jay Pandolfo and Rob Niedermayer went out for a shift just after the Parise line won a faceoff in the Habs' end, wondering where the other offensive players were.
That's pretty much when it hit me - we really don't have any proven offensive players right now besides the Parise, Langs and Travis Zajac trio. Not when Brian Rolston's in one of his elongated dissapearances or when Bergfors is either hitting the rookie wall or showing the effects of being jerked around by Jacques Lemaire, depending on which fan you ask. Of course having an entire line of second and third-line forwards on the shelf doesn't help, including Patrik Elias. Especially when Niedermayer's your second-line center and the immortal Dean McAmmond is the third-line center. How long can this go on?
Not to mention the defensive issues recently and missing Paul Martin, who's not only the team's best defenseman but also Johnny Oduya's personal pacifier. I was one of the few people who said this when Oduya was playing well the latter part of 2007-08 and all of last season, he mysteriously became a good defenseman the minute he got paired with Martin and wasn't all that great beforehand. Without Martin for much of this season, Oduya's been awful - injury or no injury.
Those defensive woes showed on the Canadiens' goal at 11:53 of the third, which basically put the game away when Darche forced Bryce Salvador into a turnover, then started a tic-tac-toe passing play with Andrei Markov and finally a wide-open Mike Cammalleri in front, and the Habs' star winger beat Brodeur with a quick wrister from the slot that he had no chance on to give them their 3-1 margin of victory.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Jaroslav Halak (31/32 saves)
- Matt Darche (goal, assist, +2)
- Zach Parise (goal, +1)