Early in the third period of Monday's shootout loss to the Islanders Ryan O'Byrne was called for an interference penalty when he tackled a guy in front of his net. The Isles didn't score, but as O'Byrne skated toward the penalty box and the Bell Centre crowd booed, I noted to my press box neighbour how I felt bad for the guy.
He's not perfect, far from it, and he's a long way from becoming a legit top-four NHL defenceman. But O'Byrne is learning, and he's been getting a rough ride in the media for the past little while.
What I said to my neighbour was that the fans and the media were a lot more tolerant of Mike Komisarek when he was making a lot of the same mistakes O'Byrne is making now, but that was largely because the Canadiens weren't particularly good back then. When the fans expect to win, there is no room for error for anyone.
But the ultimate error was still to come, and if O'Byrne thought he was getting a rough ride before he hasn't seen anything yet.
His own goal Monday night is the first of its kind I've ever seen, and for it to happen when it did, to O'Byrne of all people, is a downright cruel joke on the part of whoever's in charge of fate and karma.
O'Byrne didn't ask to be put into this position where he has to get better probably a little faster than he's ready for, where he has to play more minutes to compensate for the loss of Mike Komisarek, where he has to become the scapegoat for everything that's wrong with the Canadiens.
But that's the position he's in, and he hasn't been nearly as bad as a lot of people have made him out to be, but because of that he's subject to scrutiny.
And that can be a nasty ride.
"It always sucks (C'est toujours plate)," Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau said of the "O'Byrne, O'Byrne" chants that came raining down from the upper reaches of the Bell Centre after the game. "It's the best place to win, but the people are hard. People pay good money to come to the games, and they don’t only want to see the team, they want to see us win. Not once in a while, all the time.
"It's too bad because we’ve been giving them some good hockey for the past couple of seasons, and it’s hard to win in this league. It’s not like in the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s, it’s a lot tougher to win at home than it was back in the day. People will have to get used to that."
As th Habs filed off the bench and the chants were picking up steam, I couldn't help but notice Josh Gorges shoot a cold stare up into the stands. Gorges is a team guy through and through, and it looked as though he wanted to run up into the stands and shut some of the fans up himself.
After the game in the dressing room he'd calmed down and said all the right things, but I would have loved to ask him my question as he was coming off the bench, because his answer surely would have been more colourful than this:
"I know how it feels, I’ve put the puck into my net before. It's never intentional, it's a bad break, and nobody feels more sick to his stomach about it than Ryan does. I just thought to chant his name was tough because I know how he feels and he'd give anything to take it back. It's tough because in a situation like that you want to support a player and not have him feel down. But at the same time I know it’s disappointing for a lot of fans."
Luckily for O'Byrne, finding someone to give him advice on how to deal with this won't be difficult because if there is one guy in the world who knows of what Carbo speaks, it's his teammate Patrice Brisebois.
Brisebois might have had his worst game of the season Monday night, but he didn't hear it from the fans at all, probably because they're afraid of another Bob Gainey tongue-lashing.
The rough night began early in the first when Brisebois hit Steve Tambellini and bounced right off him, clutching is right shoulder as he slowly made his way to the bench. The only problem was that the puck was in the Habs end, and as Brisebois skated towards the bench the Isles maintained the pressure.
The way he was skating, I figured he would be out for a while, and I even had time to think that maybe we would get to see a Yannick Weber audition to replace him (I know he needs work on his defence, but look at who he would be replacing). Luckily for the Canadiens the Islanders didn't score during that mini power play, but Brisebois didn't miss a shift because of the "injury," so it couldn't have been that bad.
The rest of the night went much the same way for Brisebois, and it's not really his fault because he's playing more minutes and more often than he's supposed to because of he injury to Komisarek. But it's funny how O'Byrne is slowly taking on the Brisebois role while Brisebois is on the team, often playing the same way he did when he was the target of the Bell Centre faithful.
Please don't take this as an appeal to start booing Brisebois again, because it's actually an appeal to stop booing O'Byrne. Fans may have to start accepting the fact that O'Byrne is the team's fourth defenceman, and booing him is certainly not going to help a guy who already has self-confidence problems.
Think of how O'Byrne's first two years have gone, with his first highlighted by a purse-snatching episode in Tampa Bay, and now this.
If he ever becomes another Komisarek, and Carbonneau says he may even wind up better (though I don't think he really believes that), then these two incidents will become quirky anecdotes, footnotes on his way to becoming a premier shutdown defenceman.
But having lived through this with Brisebois before, we also know what it can do to a player when he becomes the whipping boy of the Montreal faithful. There's no way O'Byrne will ever fulfill his potential if that happens, and those quirky anecdotes will become the reasons his career fizzled out before it ever got started.