Montreal 2 New Jersey 4 (Bell Centre)
A 'let's hope the Habs don't face the Devils in the playoffs' seemed to be the popular refrain from fans after the game. The Canadiens have been doing their best to comply with a 1-2-2 record in their last five games. Instead, they must again be concerned about making the playoffs at all.
With the loss to New Jersey, the Habs find themselves in sixth place, two points ahead of Philadelphia and Boston, with both teams having games in hand. The surprising Atlanta Thrashers are also still in the playoff hunt.
So what makes fans so fearful of the Devils? Would they rather that the Canadiens face Washington or Pittsburgh in the playoffs?
Handing the Devils fewer rebounds and winning the special teams' battle could have provided a recipe for success in tonight's game. Montreal gave up two goals on three New Jersey power-play opportunities while going 0-for-4 with the man advantage.
The Habs power-play is 2-for-23 at the Bell Centre since the Olympic break. The return of Mike Cammalleri and Marc-Andre Bergeron from injury hasn't provided the instant cure that many had predicted.
"On the power play you have to be opportunistic," said Brian Gionta. "You don't have to be perfect."
Hockey analyst Pierre McGuire regularly says that the three keys to power-play success are, in order, "tactics, coaching and skill." It's interesting that only one of the characteristics is dependent on the players.
Some spoke of the loss of Glen Metropolit as a reason for the faltering power-play tonight. Metropolit left the game with a suspected separated shoulder. With all due respect to Metropolit and his success on the power-play this season, his participation was a stop-gap measure necessitated by injuries to key offensive players.
Strategy also seemed to be a problem for the Canadiens. If the Habs had been rewarded with a goal after outshooting the Devils 6-to-1 in the first few minutes of the game, it could have been a different result. New Jersey isn't the team you want to play catch-up against.
"Right after that first goal it deflated us a little bit, it kind of got us back in a shell," said Gionta. "For about 10 or 12 minutes at least we sat back too much and gave them too much respect."
Even at this point in the season, coach Jacques Martin has not learned that 'playing not to lose' results in only one thing: a loss. It was obvious that the Canadiens had been schooled to fear Ilya Kovalchuk. On several occasions the neutral zone cleared for him as the Habs scampered back into their zone with haste.
During the winning streak, we talked about the Canadiens employing an aggressive forecheck and beating opposition defense with speed. Now the discussion revolves around forwards being too small to compete. Instead, perhaps we should be focusing on how to best use the talents of the players.
And that would fall to the coach. Commenting on Martin's system, my colleague Kyle Roussel likes to use the analogy 'square-peg, round-hole'.
Contributions from the third and fourth line were also keys to success during the six game winning streak. As Martin has rotated personnel in and out of the lineup, stability and chemistry has been disturbed, and secondary scoring has dried up.
The line of Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn and Mike Cammalleri accounted for five of six points tonight. Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez were a threat at times, but Benoit Pouliot's ineffectiveness is hampering the line. Sergei Kostitsyn replaced Pouliot midway through the game.
Canadiens' penalty-killing has hit a rut in recent games. Not to lay the blame on a single player but I think it's time to return Ryan O'Byrne to play a significant portion of short-handed situations. He has been very effective in a penalty-killing role throughout the season. Josh Gorges just isn't getting the job done.
The Canadiens have a few days of practise to repair the flaws before facing the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night.
Rocket's three stars
1. Patrik Elias
2. Andrei Kostitsyn
3. Ilya Kovalchuk
Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.