What's the old saying about the devil you know being better than the one you don't?
The Edmonton Oilers might want to argue with that, which is ironic, because arguing would take more effort than the listless performance they turned in last night against some strangers from New Jersey.
So tired of their steady diet of Western Conference opposition were the Oilers that they actually relished a chance to see Martin Brodeur and the Devils for the first time since 2001.
But after last night they'd probably be fine with not hosting them again until 2013.
"We didn't compete hard enough," said head coach Craig MacTavish, after his club was outplayed, outshot and gave up three third period goals in coming up on the short and deserving end of a 3-1 defeat. "You string a team along and let them stay in the game and bad things happen and that's exactly what happened.
"They were just stronger and more determined on the puck and it's a bitter pill for me to swallow."
In being held to one goal for the third straight home game, the Oilers dropped to 16-17-3, spoiling their shot at getting over .500 for the first time since the first week of the season.
"You have an opportunity to dig yourself out of a poor start," seethed MacTavish who didn't see a lot of heart out there. "Our undoing was a lack of will. That's the troubling part. We have to make sure we get the determination back that we showed in the past five or six games."
They were OK in the first, up 1-0 on Joni Pitkanen's goal and leading 9-8 on the shot clock, but that would be the last anyone saw of them.
"There's no reason to let off the gas," said Sheldon Souray. "After we did, they probably sensed it and took control of the game."
A lot of the fans were excited to get their first look at Martin Brodeur, but the future Hall of Famer didn't have to do much. He made some big saves in the first period, and a couple more in the third, but essentially had the most of the night off.
Not so for Mathieu Garon. The Devils, 5-0 losers a few days earlier in Vancouver, took their frustrations out on the Oilers goalie, pounding him with rubber at every turn.
"We were in a good position after two," said Garon, who watched his team get outshot 33-21 (including 12-2 in the second). "But we gave the game away tonight. In the second and part of the third they really outplayed us."
It was only a matter of time before Jersey broke through Garon's defences.
And, at the five minute mark of the third, about 10 seconds after MacTavish called a time out to settle down the troops, Patrick Elias scored on the back door play that's been haunting Ladislav Smid all year.
Thirty-five seconds after that, Garon gave up a soft rebound that an unchecked Brian Gionta buried. And suddenly it's 2-1 Jersey, but with the shots 27-13 for the visitors, it didn't come as any great surprise.
"We didn't play great in the second, we weren't really competing and playing hard," said Marty Reasoner. "And in the third we just made some bad errors and they capitalized. That's kind of been the story of late, giving up goals in bunches."
Playing shorthanded all the time doesn't help, either. Edmonton was shorthanded for 10 minutes, New Jersey just two.
"It wears some guys down," said Reasoner. "Guys like Horcoff and Stoll, who are playing a lot of those tough minutes, it wears them down for later in the game, and it gets a lot of guys out of the game, too.
"Guys who don't kill penalties are sitting there for eight minutes at a time. You don't need Hemsky sitting on the bench for that long."
Edmonton's comeback attempt ended in John Madden's empty netter at 19:31.