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Game 47: Devils vs. Montreal

This. This is a weird feeling. The Devils are at home for the first time in nearly 2 weeks. He's coming off a very successful road trip and they have a chance to keep up in the Atlantic with a win over Montreal.

What also makes this weird is that after this game is the All Star break. While we're up to Game #47 of the season, past the official halfway point of the season, it's during this break where it really feels like the halfway point. With games becoming scarce, the standings become more noticeable. Teams are truly finding themselves in the role realistic playoff contenders to playoff hopefuls or playoffs-if-we-win-20-straight-games-or-some-other-miracle. The trade deadline is suddenly realized to be a little more than a month away. It is a time of rest before a flurry of games in February and March which could make or break a season.

Speaking of weird, I was ready to come here and state how this will be difficult for the Devils. The Canadiens continue to roll with an impressive 27-11-6 record, one of eight teams in the league with a goals scored per game average over 3 (3.04/game), and they've been playing real well of late.

Robert at Habs Eye on the Prize is praising not one, but two of the lines put together by Guy Carbonneau for being particularly effective, and the praise is quite deserved if it's coming from Robert. Overall, Les Habs have been excellent only losing twice this month: 4-1 to the Devils and 3-1 to the Bruins. All of this without some very key players in the line up, and some of them are coming back (e.g. Carey Price) This team is for real.

Montreal Canadiens Injuries

Out (IR / Out / Suspended / Physically unvailable)

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Saku Koivu ankle 12.12.2008
Georges Laraque groin 22.12.2008
Christopher Higgins shoulder 11.12.2008
Mathieu Dandenault arm 10.12.2008

And yet, a recent stumble! They have lost to Atlanta 4-2 on the road Tuesday night. Coincidentaly, Carey Price made an appearance in this one (poor Halak!) A bad game from which Montreal will rebound with a fantastic performance, achieving revenge for how they got beat at the beginning of 2009? Is it proof that that the team is looking forward to the All Star Break and perhaps not play to their best in Newark tonight? Maybe the Thrashers just played their hearts out and bewildered the Canadiens? Something else? All of it? I don't know.

And so all the Devils can do is to perform well. Chere says they aren't looking towards the break, they know they got a talented Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge lineup visiting tonight. The team got a day's rest to heal up some of those bruises and sores and that should help them come out strong right out of the gate. I'd like to point out that 4 of the 5 Devils' wins from the road trip came when they scored first. This season, the Devils win 80% of the time when they score first. There's a reason it's a cliche; scoring first is a big benefit. And tonight against Montreal, it should be no different. Score first, set the tone, and don't let up if the tone is good for the home team.

In addition, the Devils would be wise to not take so many penalties. Or at least, so many dumb ones. I noted this yesterday after the Nashville game. With a power play effectiveness rate of 15.7%, Montreal's power play hasn't been mauling teams - but it's better than Nashville's, which actually came through that night. Even if they aren't converting, it's 2 minutes of puck possession normally dominated by the opposition with high percentage shots bombing the net. That turns into momentum, unless the penalty killers can foil them completely. Even with Montreal's recent stumble, allowing them glorious chances to get something going on the road is anything but a good idea. Likewise, if the Devils can continue being amazing on the power play (repeat after Gulitti: 7 for 15 on the trip!), it would go a long way in continuing the misery for Les Habs.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or a complaint in the comments before, during, and after the game. Just keep it clean, keep it relevant, and, if you can, keep it Jersey.