It would be easy to say the Canadiens lost to the Devils because of the "Devils Curse." It'd be even easier to say the loss was due to a depleted defence and missing Cammalleri in the top six. Those excuses are just excuses.
It's pretty hard to blame the missing Markov, Gorges and Wizniewski when Gill and Subban were the ones getting beaten like dusty rugs. It wasn't injury replacements giving the puck away like Gill did on the Devils first goal, just over a minute in. It wasn't fatigue on a back-to-back weekend either, because the Habs weren't falling behind late in the period. They were down two before the game was five minutes old.
No, in this case, the Devils came out ready and the Habs did not. End of story. Once Jersey went up by two, they just shut down the Habs' sputtering offence for the rest of the game. If, as some critics say, the Habs are just the "new Devils," the old Devils are still the kings at clogging up the neutral zone and suffocating all hope of offence. They forgot for a while, but the return of Jacques Lemaire has brought it all back. It's not that the Canadiens didn't try to get back into it. They did. After the first five minutes, they tried like hell. It just goes to show how tight the league really is. If a team slacks off for five minutes, it can mean the difference between two points and none.
That said, the Habs have done admirably since the all-star break. With two sets of back-to-back games (what's with all these back-to-backs anyway?) in a week, while battling illness and injury, they still managed to take six of eight points. And even when down against the Devils, they didn't quit. The Canadiens are a competitive bunch and they don't like to lose. That attitude can give us some comfort after a game like yesterday's. Every team loses games. At least the Canadiens lose them relatively infrequently.
As the team gears up for a real measuring-stick kind of game against the Bruins on Wednesday, however, we can be sure Pierre Gauthier is carefully considering what to do about some of the team's persistent weaknesses. The one thing they always have trouble with is getting to the net when faced with a tight-checking opponent. Also, the Habs are a hardworking team that, when on their game, can compete against anyone. The problem, perfectly illustrated by yesterday's loss, is that there's absolutely no room for error. When the Canadiens don't put in a full 60 minutes' effort, they lose. They need to be able to score goals more easily, and they need to be able to drive the net to break other teams' trap.
Max Pacioretty is doing that really effectively. He made a great move to push past a defenceman and get a shot off on the rush. The good news is, he's developing into a real power forward. The bad news is he's the only guy doing that right now. We've seen flashes of it from Benoit Pouliot and Andrei Kostitsyn, but neither of them is a consistent threat. Lars Eller has the size and skill to do it, but he's still pretty green. If Gauthier is shopping at the deadline, he needs to be looking for a mix of size and speed in a guy who goes to the net regularly. Among bottom feeders who are likely to sell at the deadline, Ottawa's Mike Fisher would be lovely. So would Trent Hunter from the Isles (his current knee injury would help him fit right in as a Hab) and the Oilers Dustin Penner. The thing is, all of those guys would be more than just rentals, and they would be expensive to acquire.
If Gauthier is considering a move, it should be for a player like that, who would be part of the team going forward. That way, since he's going to have to give up assets in any case, at least he won't be throwing them away for a long-shot playoff run that will limit the team's depth for next year.
It'll be interesting to see how the GM manouvers in the next couple of weeks. If he decides to stand pat, we know what the Habs' weaknesses will be going into the playoffs. Unfortunately, so will every opponent they face. They'll continue to be a hardworking team that wins when it out-hustles the other guys. When they let up for a few minutes, though, they fall behind. Sometimes, when the games are tight and the opponent stingy on D, the Canadiens just don't have the tools to get back into it.