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Game 43 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Montreal Canadiens, 1/9/2010

The Time: 7 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV: MSG (HD) Radio: 1130 AM WBBR

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (30-10-1) at the Montreal Canadiens (22-21-3) 

The Last Devils Game: Well, it didn't go well for the first 31 minutes on the ice and it went even worse when part of the lighting system at the Prudential Center went out.  After a nearly 2 hour delay, the game was postponed. Steve was all over what was going here, including some final thoughts from me when I came home.   Apparently, the lighting system is now fixed; the remaining 29:13 of the game will be played be tomorrow at 6 PM at the Rock, according to Gulitti.  If you have your ticket from that game, you'll get in for free.

The Last Canadiens Game:  Jaroslav Halak was the star for Montreal as he stopped everything (38 shots) that the Florida Panthers threw at him.   New Canadien Benoit Pouliot put up the game's lone non-empty net goal, Montreal amazingly stayed out of the penalty box, and Halak won the eventual goaltender's duel with Tomas Vokoun en route to a 2-0 victory. Kevin Mio has a short recap of the win at Habs Inside/Out.

The Last Devils-Canadiens Game:  This was a rather ugly affair and I still stand by my sentiment that neither team seemingly didn't want to win the game all that badly.  Nevertheless, the Devils managed to string together something on offense and Patrik Elias put home the game winner late in the third period to send the fans home happy with a 2-1 win.  The Devils are now 1-0-0 against Montreal.  My recap can be found here with plenty of ranting about bad offense by New Jersey and horrific discipline by Montreal.   For the opposition's take, a quick recap by Kevin Mio at Habs Inside/Out is here.

The Goal:  No defensive breakdowns.  The only reason why Tampa Bay scored 3 goals on 7 shots prior to the lighting issue is because of some boneheaded moves - or lack thereof - in the team's own zone.  I hope during the delay, Jacques Lemaire rightfully gave Rob Niedermayer a piece of his mind for that turnover that led to Brandon Bochenski's goal, as well as Colin White and Mike Mottau for bungling so badly that both Martin St. Louis and Steve Stamkos left them in their dust ice shavings for a goal.  Had the defense done their job, those shots don't even happen and the score is manageable.    Outside of that, continue the effort that was shown against Dallas; but the Devils need to be fully aware in their own zone.  Quality always beats quantity every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Read on further for some thoughts on tonight's game including some insight into the current status of the Montreal Canadiens from Robert Lefebvre of Habs Eyes on the Prize.

Well.  With having only played half a game last night, the Devils should be well rested for tonight's game.  Martin Brodeur will be fine and he'll almost definitely start just because it's Montreal.   I'm not at all sure how things are looking in practice; but I would think if Lemaire is going to make any changes it may be to swap Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond out for either Ilkka Pikkarainen or Andrew Peters.   But with little information out there about the Devils as of this writing, I'm going to guess at the same line up will start for New Jersey:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
 Patrik Elias - Dean McAmmond - Brian Rolston
  Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Niclas Bergfors
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond - Rod Pelley - Vladimir Zharkov

Andy Greene - Johnny Oduya
Colin White - Mike Mottau
  Bryce Salvador - Mark Fraser

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

With so much written about the Devils' last night: Steve's post with my supplemental comments, SBNation's main article on the NHL section, and Tom Gulitti ruthlessly criticizing the organization today (though I get the sense he's more unhappy that he/media didn't get any info, but I agree with his criticism all the same), let's look at Montreal.  A team mired in the lower half in the Eastern Conference.  A squad beset by injuries, as Habs Inside/Out's Mike Boone reported that Andrei Kostitsyn has underwent knee surgery and will be out indefinitely and Dave Stubbs reported that George Laraque is out with an "upper body injury."  At least Brian Gionta and Andrei Markov are back. 

Nevertheless, Montreal is still a very competitive team with some strong talent up front (Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri), Markov back running the blueline, and two talented goaltenders in Halak and Carey Price. Yet due to injuries, some awful discipline, and a team that concedes a lot of shots per game (32.9, 3rd most in the league) Per Stubbs' post, Halak will get the start tonight coming off a shutout so the Devils should make every effort to reduce Halak's confidence.

To that end, I had some questions about the team and Robert at Habs Eyes on the Prize thankfully responded with some interest - the same sort of detail he puts in on his must-read site for "big-picture" Montreal analysis.

Question #1. Montreal just defeated the Florida Panthers 2-0 in a game where both teams threw everything at the goaltenders and Jaroslav Halak rose above Tomas Vokoun to get the shutout win.  While the win was nice, what do you see in that game that Montreal needs to improve upon for tonight's game against New Jersey?

2009 - Jaroslav Halak 19 1082 12 6 45 2.50 615 570 .927 2

RL:  Truth be told, the Canadiens can still improve in just about every facet that doesn't involve special teams and goaltending. They surely will not penetrate Jersey's defense as they were able to against the Panthers. Montreal will not fire 39 shots on Marty in this lifetime!

Against the Devils, the impossible mission always involves creating outmanned advantages and beating them to the puck in all three zones. Not gonna happen, but the effort to do so has to be consistent in order for the Canadiens to capitalize on the few chances they may create. Last time in Jersey, they learned that a 1-0 lead is simply not enough. If the Habs work hard enough to gain a lead at any point in the game, they'd better be disciplined to hold onto it.

Question #2. Incidentally, with the win over Florida, Montreal is now up to a mediocre 10-10-2 home record this season.  They've had more wins on the road.  Is this record just coincidental to the team's play, or is there more to Montreal's tepid home record this season?

RL: That may just be that they've been served a weaker road opponent over the schedule's first half. That and the fact that there is no hometown crowd to get fancy in front of.
An honest assessment would be that without Markov and Gionta for a chunk, Montreal is pretty much the .500 hockey club their record says they are.

Question #3. Brian Gionta finally recovered from his broken foot and will play against the Devils for the first time since signing with Montreal.  I see that since his return, he has scored 2 goals and 3 assists. Very nice.  Clearly, he's producing, but Devils fans are interested to see how does he fit in Montreal now?

2009 - Brian Gionta 25 10 8 18 5 12 2 0 1 0 91 11.0

RL: Gionta's been dynamite since Day 1. Fitting in with Montreal has been smoothened by his reunion with Gomez, who incidentally, is shipwrecked without him. Gionta's return to the lineup has coincided with the acquisition of Benoit Pouliot, and thanks to his joining an already cemented duo, is finally showing why he was a fourth overall pick in 2005.
In many opinions, up until that foot injury, Gionta was considered the Canadiens best and most consistent performer. If you can imagine in Montreal, hardly a negative word has been uttered about the guy.

Question #4. One of the more surprising stats regarding the Canadiens is that while they tied for 9th in the least amount of PIM/game with 12.0, they are third in the NHL in having the most minors with 214.  Moreover, some Montreal players took some incredibly stupid penalties against the Devils back on December 16.  What has the team been doing to try an improve their on-ice discipline? Are they even doing anything to address this issue?

RL: Well, all you could say is that they are aware of it, but improvements rarely last more than one game. It's a bit of a viscious circle with the Canadiens. It starts with the high shot totals when they are not aggressive enough on the puck. Correcting that, invariably brings on the lack of discipline. If there is a penalty box parade then guess what?....up go the shot totals.
The revolving issue with this Montreal team is that it is not built to sustain puck battles over three periods. Up front, the skilled and feisty lack size, and competing with an edge often brings about the lackadaisical efforts that result in the lazy penalties. The tell tale stat is the number of calls that fall into the hooking, holding and tripping categories. The Canadiens are taking these penalties on the chase, from behind, and as a result of not taking the extra step at the right time to gain the proper angle on opponents. What gratingly nags, is the notion that you cannot teach a group what it is essentially unable to do physically. That in a breath is the Canadiens story over 48 games.

Big thanks to Robert for his input.  The main key is simple for the Devils - put last night's nightmare score and technical arena issue behind them and come out on fire to start.  Brodeur will bring his "A" game, the defense will have every reason to look smarter, and the offense would like to put a few past Halak for sure.  As Robert said, the Canadiens tend to struggle all over the rink because of the intense focus at all point.  If the Devils can avoid the mental errors they had in their own zone against Tampa Bay, then they should be good to go tonight.  Because against Dallas and even against Tampa Bay, the Devils were very strong along the boards and in battling for the puck.  Per Robert's fourth answer, that's a weakness of Montreal that New Jersey should expose early and often.

Steve will have the GameThread up later, I will join in on comments, and please leave your thoughts, concerns, questions, news updates, and other such in the comments to this post prior to the GameThread.  Thanks for reading (apologies for the odd formatting in the text), and Go Devils!