Last year on almost the exact same date, Jan. 24 to be precise, in the final game prior to the All-Star break the Habs walked into New Jersey and were down 3-1 heading into the third period.
Nobody in their right mind believed the Habs would be able to come back, especially since they had lost their last eight straight in the Garden State.
But third period goals from Bryan Smolinski, Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins led the Canadiens to their most unprobable win in recent memory, all against Martin Brodeur. For a lot of people, myself included, that win proved to me that the Canadiens surprising record at that stage of the season was not a mirage. This team was indeed for real.
Fast forward 362 days to Wednesday night's game in New Jersey, and the Habs found themselves in the exact same position. Heading into the third down 3-1, the Canadiens had a chance to prove something, just like they did a year earlier. They didn't necessarily need to win the game, but they needed to show they cared enough to put up a fight, and that simply didn't happen as the Habs eventually succumbed by a 5-2 score.
When Guy Carbonneau said some players were already on vacation, and that he felt it throughout the mini road trip, it was pretty clear who he meant. I've been pretty easy on Alex Kovalev this year because, despite his drop in production, I don't feel he's played much worse than last year. But in the last two games he completely dogged it. Not something that's very becoming of the Eastern Conference All-Star captain.
Consider for a moment that Kovalev (1:04) and Tomas Plekanec (1:16) combined for less time on the power play than their regular linemate and rookie Max Pacioretty (2:40), who Carbonneau took off their line in the third and played with the returning Saku Koivu and fellow rookie Matt D'Agostini. You can only assume that was a quarantine type of move by the coach, to make sure the chronic laziness of his linemates didn't spread to the energized rookie winger.
All that being said, all is not lost, of course. Maybe Kovalev and Plekanec were out of gas and legitimately need the break, maybe the Devils were just that much better than the Canadiens, or maybe it's just one more loss.
But if it's not just that, if it's a sign of a more general malaise considering it's lasted two games now, then Carbonneau and friends have a problem on their hands.
I'm guessing it's not that big of a deal, but I'm also pretty positive it will hamper Carbonneau's ability to enjoy the All-Star festivities this weekend. Do you think he'll ask Eastern Conference head coach Claude Julien to bench Kovalev if he dogs it Sunday night as well?
Speaking of All-Star weekend, I will be covering it for The Canadian Press so I'll be posting stuff here throughout. Also, I'm going to start writing weekly posts on the Habs for a new site that's just getting started, you can check it out at thehockeywriters.com.