Montreal Canadiens vs New Jersey Devils: Mathieu Darche Pots Two in Habs Win

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Montreal Canadiens vs New Jersey Devils: Mathieu Darche Pots Two in Habs Win
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens got back on the winning track yesterday with a 3-1 regulation victory in New Jersey against the Devils.

Montreal, who has been floundering of late and has yet to clinch a playoff spot, played a perfect road game in getting only their second win in the last six games.

For the Devils, the loss eliminated them from playoff contention marking the first time since 1996 they will miss the playoffs.

A Jacques Martin versus Jacques Lemaire coaching matchup is nothing to get excited about and the two coaches didn't disappoint! These are, after all, two of the last remaining coaches who truly embrace the '90s-style neutral zone trap.

As such, it is a bit of a sleepy game but one that suited the Canadiens just fine.

Moreover, with Montreal struggling to find their game in recent weeks, it was perhaps just what the doctor ordered.

Both Martin Brodeur and Carey Price were spectacular for their respective teams, Brodeur having to make the bigger stops. Despite Brodeur's strong play, Montreal got two goals from Mathieu Darche and one from P.K. Subban—his 13th of the season tying him for seventh among NHL defenseman and first among rookie D—to secure the win.

The victory was a much needed bounce back for Price who had been pulled in his previous three road games.

In turning aside 20 of 21 shots he faced, Price earned his second overall 36th win of the season. This career high equals the most victories that Patrick Roy had in any season over his career in Montreal.


Final score: Habs 3 - Devils 1

Habs scorers: Mathieu Darche (11, 12), P.K. Subban (13)
Devils scorers: Ilya Kovalchuk (29)


Games Notes

What was that?

By "that," I am referring to the Devils' play.

We all know that the Devils will not be playing hockey past the end of the regular season. That being said, New Jersey has been one of the hottest teams in the league since early January going 26-8-3 in their last 37 games.

Last night, however, the Devils looked more like the Canadiens in recent weeks, which is to say not very good.

They were flat, had zero forecheck, looked slow and struggled to gain and keep the puck in the offensive zone. As such, the Habs were able to easily dominate play for most of the game, especially in the first.

The Devils managed a little push-back in the second, but otherwise struggled to produce much of a threat.

Watching last night's game was like watch the Canadiens play, over recent weeks, but from the other side. The Devils, similarly to Montreal, have a bunch of highly skilled offensive players who seem to be stifled by Jersey's defense-first mentality.

Players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Patrick Elias and Travis Zajac could likely do a lot more with an attacking system. But alas, they are left to toil through stifling defensive responsibilities instead of trying to score, much like Montreal.

The Devils, who will miss the playoffs for the first time in 15 seasons, clearly have some soul searching to do. Will they continue to ride this dead neutral-zone trap horse or will they go in a new direction?

Only time will tell, but GM Lou Lamoriello doesn't seem like a man who is interested in change.


Mathieu Darche continues to impress

What can you say about Mathieu Darche?

This is a player who was an afterthought to most in the offseason, myself included. A player that had many wringing their hands when he was re-signed instead of Dominic Moore.

The thinking was that while Moore would have cost the Canadiens more dollars, he was a younger, faster, more skilled version of Darche. So while Darche's work ethic has always been beyond reproach, I think there were few who thought he would end up being as effective as he has been.

This season, Darche is putting his best statistical season by playing a simple and effective game. The result is that he's made himself indispensable to the Canadiens.

In recent weeks, with Darche and Max Pacioretty out of the lineup, the Habs have had a shortage of players willing to go to the net. But last night, Darche picked up that responsibility and ran with it.

On both of Darche's goals he used simplicity to get the Habs on the board by heading to the net, fighting for stick positioning with the defender and deflecting Brian Gionta's pass/shot past Brodeur.

Neither goal was flashy and but both were effective, back-to-basics type goals.

The Habs have been stuck trying to get the "perfect" goal far too often this season. So last night it was nice to see simplicity become the hallmark of victory.

Sometimes that's what you need in order to turn a bad streak around.


The hidden hand of Bob Gainey is still working magic

Much has been made of Bob Gainey's infrequent private discussions with certain players over the years.

The first such incident took place with former Hab, Alex Kovalev, when he was playing some abysmal hockey a few seasons ago. The now famous walk by the water in the Old Port of Montreal, had lasting effects on Kovalev and helped make him a more productive player for the Habs.

Last season, after being demoted to the Bulldogs and going AWOL, it was Sergei Kostitsyn's turn to get a personal one-on-one visit from Gainey. After the meeting, Kostitsyn returned to the Bulldogs and played some excellent hockey before ultimately being recalled to Montreal and subsequently traded.

This season, it was Scott Gomez's turn to receive special treatment from Silent Bob.

It was reported that three games ago, Gainey came out of the shadows to talk with the much maligned center. While the details of what was discussed have and will continue to remain a secret, the effects of the tête-a-tête are visible on the ice.

Since their discussion, Gomez has played his best hockey of the 2010-2011 NHL season. On the scoreboard, he has two assists and a plus-2 rating over the last three games but, more importantly, looks like he has come back to life.

He is finally skating, making plays and strong passes, looks good in the defensive zone and, for the first time this season, is making his wingers better.

The addition of Darche on his has been a boon too, since Darche does all of the dirty work needed for the trio to be effective.

With three games left in the season Gomez's resurgence could not be more timely. But let's just remember who should be credited for the turnaround.

If there was any doubt about Gainey's involvement in the team, I think it is now dispelled. The only question that remains now is whether or not Gomez will be traded. As witnessed with Kovalev and Kostitsyn, a private Gainey talk seems to be the kiss of death!


Standings and Next Game

The Canadiens earned two critical points in the standings last night and are sixth in the East with 91. Montreal's magic number to make the playoffs now sits at two, although that will likely change based on what teams behind them do.

Buffalo, 5-4 overtime losers to the Caps last night, are in seventh with 88 points with the Rangers closing out the top-eight with 87 points.

Both teams hold a game in hand on Montreal.

In ninth overall are the Carolina Hurricanes with 86 points and four games left. The highest point total they can get if they win all four games is 94. That being said, with games against the Sabres, Red Wings, Thrashers and Lightning remaining, it seems unlikely that they will get a clean sweep.

As such, Montreal could end up clinching a playoff spot on a Hurricanes loss over the course of the next week.

The Habs now travel back to Montreal for a two-day break before taking on Chicago on Tuesday. After that, they have a Thursday tilt in Ottawa before closing out the season in Toronto.

Will it take Montreal until the final game to clinch like it did last season? Somehow I don't think so, but in a week from now we'll know for sure.


Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/

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