MONTREAL – The New Jersey Devils, and Martin Brodeur in particular, have a history of waltzing into Montreal and laying a spanking on the Canadiens.
But these aren't your average Devils.
Coming off a 1-4-1 start to the season marked by injuries and inconsistent play, the Devils limp into Montreal for Thursday night's tilt at the Bell Centre desperate for a turnaround.
And there's no better place for it to happen than here, especially when it comes to the native son Brodeur.
"Since I've been here he always seems to save his best games for here, for whatever reason," Devils winger Zach Parise said Thursday after an optional morning skate. "I don't want to put any pressure on the guy, but you kind of expect it."
Brodeur is not happy with the way he's played thus far this season with his 3.18 goals-against average and .887 save percentage light years away from the standard for the future Hall of Famer. But at Bell Centre, Brodeur has a 15-8-1 record over his career with a 1.58 GAA and .942 save percentage. Overall against the team he grew up cheering for, Brodeur has a 38-16-5 career mark with a 1.78 GAA and eight shutouts.
The Devils could use a Brodeur on top of his game, but Parise is quick to point out that even though his teammates expect it, they can't rely on their goalie to steal one for them.
"We have to play a good, no, a great game in front of him," Parise said.
Coach John MacLean shuffled up his lines and defense pairings over the past three days of Devils practice, taking Ilya Kovalchuk off the top line with Parise and Travis Zajac, and replacing him with Dainius Zubrus.
"I think we were expecting it," Parise said of the shakeup. "We haven't played well enough to keep the lines together."
Parise was asked if there was still an adjustment period going on with Kovalchuk, and he bristled at the idea.
"I know a lot of people want to point the finger at one thing to figure out what's wrong," he said. "But there's a lot of things that have to be fixed. Having Kovy on the team isn't one of them."
With four regular defensemen out of the Devils lineup, Thursday night will be a thrill for rookie rearguard Olivier Magnan-Grenier, who will be making his NHL debut about a two-hour drive from his hometown of Sherbrooke, Que.
"I couldn't have really asked for anything better," a beaming Magnan-Grenier said.
The Canadiens, like the Devils, are coming off a long break in the schedule with four days between games, giving them time to work on their power play that has gone 1-for-17 -- 29th in the League -- in the absence of quarterback Andrei Markov.
Montreal coach Jacques Martin made a slight tweak to the top unit, taking Jaroslav Spacek off the right point and sliding rookie P.K. Subban to that spot, then moving Roman Hamrlik on to the left point.
It takes away slightly from Subban's ability to unleash one-timers because his right-hand shot will be on the right side, but he said that's not the main concern right now.
"I'm really not worried about set plays to let go of one-timers," Subban said Thursday morning at the team practice facility in Brossard. "It starts with guys getting their nose dirty in front of the net and us getting pucks to the net as quickly as possible."
Michael Cammalleri, a key threat from the right faceoff circle in the Canadiens power play scheme, feels it's just a matter of time before the team finds the success it had last year when it was ranked second in the NHL.
"We've had a lot of chances, they're just not going in for us," he said. "As an offensive player, when you're not getting looks, that's when the game gets frustrating. I know last game I had eight shots on goal, and at least five of them probably came on the power play. If I get five shots on the power play every game, I like my chances."
Another issue of concern for the 3-1-1 Canadiens is the lack of production coming from Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, two former Devils who would love nothing more than pick it up starting Thursday night. Tom Pyatt was the latest player to get a look playing on their left side this week in practice, but look for Benoit Pouliot to get some shifts there against the Devils as well.