The Devils go into the All Star Break in first place in the division - which will certainly make tomorrow's Division Snapshot more interesting. And the big key in their 5-2 win over Montreal tonight was that the Devils kept looking to attack with possession. Maybe not so much in the third, but the Devils outshot the Canadiens 34-28, and had the majority of scoring chances despite a disparity in power plays. However, the performance was more complex than that.
Rarely in a non-penalty killing situation did they settle for just dumping the puck for Montreal to just take it up themselves. Every line looked to do something positive with the puck on offense and I think this was the big difference. Brendan Shanahan, Bryce Salvador, Mike Mottau and Bobby Holik were the only ones to not register a shot - and Shanahan and Holik were certainly trying as they each were registed with 2 and 1 missed shots, respectively.
Carey Price had a lot of work tonight with 35 shots against; and he's got a few goals against he'd like a second chance at. Paul Martin wasn't perfect, he took an obvious cross checking call in the beginning and he took a slashing call that led to Montreal's second goal of the game. Yet, he came through huge as he took a sublime pass from Patrik Elias for a breakaway and beats Price in between his legs. That's something Price probably would have liked to avoid. He also probably wished that Travis Zajac didn't inadvertently deflect down a Zach Parise shot. Price stops the deflected shot, but he was caught sliding - Zajac pounds the net, hits the post first, and puts home the loose puck. Price would probably would have loved it if he could have seen Johnny Oduya's bomb from the point late in the second that burned him - killing the momentum the Canadiens built up in the second and retaking it for the home squad. Maybe he stops it if John Madden wasn't screening him. Lastly, Price would have really, really, really appreciated Sergei Kostitsyn not reaching out to block a cross-ice pass from Parise; as Kostitsyn essentially put it past his own keeper for a heartbreaking fourth goal! The fifth, well, that was an empty netter from Elias.
A variety of goals, a couple of them due to some good fortune and a couple of them due to some excellent finishing. Oduya's goal late in the second was especially big as Montreal was only down 2-1 beforehand and were looking good with 13 shots that period. The third Devils goal just re-established who was the better team on the ice tonight. Overall, the Devils made the most out of their superior offense - in terms of shots, possession, and chances - to be the superior team on the ice and on the scoreboard.
Price looked good when he got down into his half-butterfly position; but he really would have enjoyed a few different situations tonight. Scott Clemmensen was pretty strong in net; but he had no chance on a rebound given up right to Josh Gorges, who buried it. And he got fooled by a Matt D'Agostini shot that deflected off of Oduya's stick and went up in an arc that Clemmensen that couldn't see due to Max Pacioretty's screen. Still, can't complain too loudly. And in other goaltender news, Steve Cangelosi reported on the telecast that Martin Brodeur had skated for the first time since his surgery. He's on schedule, as Lou says. That's some great news.
While the Devils conceded 28 shots and 5 power plays, the defense wasn't as bad as these numbers might suggest. They fought hard to ensure the Canadiens wouldn't get a clear one-on-one chance with Clemmensen. They made their lives difficult in preventing them from a second chance shot off a rebound or a puck going astray. They didn't allow all that many odd man rushes. The forwards were good in backchecking with stickchecks and bodychecks to help out the blueliners. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective. What's more is that their breakout passes out of the zone were generally strong in getting the Devils flying through the neutral zone, often with at least two Devils moving ahead to attack.. This game is a testament to the fact that the offense is a responsibility of all five skaters on the ice - and the Devils played very well on that front.
In the post-game show, Ken Daneyko expressed his pleasant surprise that the Devils are first in the division, when you consider all of the injury struggles in the first two months of the season - especially the long term injury to Martin Brodeur. I have to agree, I would never have guessed that they could be at the top of the division without Brodeur. I was proven wrong by Lou, Sutter and the coaching staff, the players, and the organization. This is a team built for success and I currently feel that the inevitable return of Brodeur wouldn't hinder or really change how the team has played, but put the team over the top.
We can wonder about that for the next few days (and I'll certainly be asking for What Do You Think again). Let's focus on the situation right now: A third win over Les Habs, their fifth straight win, a solid 5-2 win, Parise and Elias among the top ten in the league in scoring, and sitting ahead of both Philadelphia and the Rangers. Most of the team will relax until next week - and they've earned it.