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Game 28 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Montreal Canadiens

The Time: 1:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, CBC, RDS; Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (14-12-1) vs. the Montreal Canadiens (11-11-7)

The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils played like garbage for the better part of the first two periods against the Ottawa Senators, fully deserving a 3-0 deficit. With 5 minutes left in the second, Zach Parise scored a shorthanded goal - the sole highlight for the Devils in the second. Then the third period came along and the Devils put together a huge comeback within the first 10 minutes with not one, not two, but three goals. Yes, the Devils made up 3-0 deficit to lead 4-3 with 10 minutes to go. The Devils did a good job holding onto the lead save for the final 20 seconds when the Senators made a mad sort-of shorthanded dash up ice and Ottawa tied the game with 5 seconds left. A shootout was necessary and the Devils won it to obtain a 5-4 win. My lengthy recap of the wild game is here.

The Last Canadiens Game: While the Devils were doing the highly improbable against the Senators; the Canadiens were trapped in a nightmare. They were hosting the Vancouver Canucks and built up a three goal lead. Roberto Luongo got beat by two long shots through traffic in the first and Erik Cole tacked on an early second period goal. But cracks began to form in the metaphorical dam when Mason Raymond scored a shorthanded goal 8:37 into the second. The Canucks would be out-shot in the second but maintain the score; and they came out hard in the third. Cody Hodgson scored in a 4-on-4 situation early in the third; and Sami Salo bombed a power play goal past Carey Price to equalize the game. Unlike the Devils, the Canucks only scored two in the third period; so the game required overtime and a shootout. Hodgson was the lone scorer and so the Canadiens dropped another point in 4-3 shootout loss. A full round up of articles is available at the Montreal Gazette's Hockey Inside/Out.

The Goal: Attempt to get a lead. The Devils have had this incredibly frustrating tendency to make big, serious errors on defense; and many have ended with goals against. They have this annoying trait of not generating enough shots on net, even against teams who have been leaking 30+ shots on average or played the prior night. Both came up in Thursday's game against Ottawa. As great as the comeback effort was, it's a big issue that the Devils had to make a comeback effort. This means the start of the game must be better, the Devils need to force the play on Montreal, and settle for minor errors as opposed to the major ones that cost the team goals. If they can do that, they can not only get a lead, but possibly maintain it. If the Devils falter again, then we're going to be hoping for a comeback and I doubt the Devils can be as fortunate in two straight games. Even against a Montreal team that has been prone to bottling games as Mike Boone noted in this article at Hockey Inside/Out.

As usual, I have more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For a fan-based perspective, please check out Habs Eyes on the Prize.

Those who support the Montreal Canadiens aren't happy, and why should they be? Their favorite team just dropped points after regulation - again. The shootout remains to be a sore spot as they are 1-5 this season. Their favorite team got a sizable lead and just like in several past games as Mike Boone noted in this post at Hockey Inside/Out, Les Habs blew it again. The Canadiens just won one of their last seven games. The fans fill up the arena and cheer their hearts out, and the team is a mere 4-5-6 at home. The team has yet another injury on their hands: captain Brian Gionta got hurt against Vancouver and he didn't make the trip to New Jersey with the team on Friday according to the end of this article by Dave Stubbs in the Montreal Gazette. Gionta's one of the team's top forwards, so this hurts their offense further. The Montreal power play is so weak, it's success rate is only 11.4% - which is lower than New Jersey's. With Andrei Markov injured, the Canadiens decided to bolster this unit and their blueline by trading a just-turned-healthy Jaroslav Spacek for Tomas Kaberle, he of 9 assists, 4 assists on the power play, no goals at all, and one stinker of a contract. Yeah. Even the people covering the team aren't happy if Mike Boone's reaction and Pat hickey's Thoughts are any indication.

Of course, Les Habs fans should probably step away from the ledge a little bit. Regarding the Spacek-for-Kaberle swap, Andrew Berkshire at Habs Eyes on the Prize has the most complete analysis of the deal. He concludes that this may not be such a horrible trade if he's used right. Given the arrival of Kaberle and the potential return of Chris Campoli, the Canadiens sent down defenseman Frederic St-Denis on Friday. The blueline will get some extra experience on the ice. More than that, I don't think this team is as horrid as their fans may feel at times.

For starters, they're more than a pretty good possession team. Their close-score team Fenwick% is 51.52% per Behind the Net. That's the ninth highest percentage in the league, which is quite impressive. Moreover, they're fierce with the puck when the team is down a goal. Their Fenwick% shoots up to 60.68%, which is the highest in the league. That's definitely a good sign; it suggests that the team doesn't give up on games. Then again, Montreal fans reading this are likely thinking, "That's not the problem, it's protecting leads." Devils fans are likely nodding in response given their own mostly-terrible third periods.

Well, I can't really point to defense and say "That's your problem." Like the Devils, the Canadiens are quite good in preventing shots at 5-on-5. According to Behind the Net, the Canadiens allow 27.7 SA/60, which is the fourth best in the NHL and not much higher than New Jersey. Unlike the Devils, Montreal has shown that they can out-shoot their competition Their 5-on-5 rate at shots on net is 29.2 SF/60; and their 5-on-4 rate is 52.3 SF/60. The latter will surprise some fans as that is a good rate and I think if the Canadiens just keep it up, the shots will eventually fall in. They can't keep shooting at 6.1% in one man-advantage situations - can they? By the way, peep the goals against stat, they're one behind New Jersey in allowing shorthanded goals in 5-on-4 situations. It's like they know our pain.

They also know the glory of a very strong penalty killing unit. The Canadiens are the second most successful team in the league at killing penalties with a success rate of 89%. In fact, they're better than the Devils in preventing shots in 4-on-5 situations with a SA/60 rate of 36.7. They're better than everyone in the league in that stat, in fact. They're also getting good goaltending, another positive for the Canadiens this season. As much as Montreal supporters may feel otherwise at time, I can't point a finger at Carey Price and say he's the problem with his solid save percentage.

2011-12 - Carey Price 25 1528 10 8 7 57 2.24 700 643 .919 .923 2

What about offense? Well, we know they generate shots; but what about actually making them count? The power play is a wash; but they're quite OK at even strength. The Canadiens have been shooting at 8.4% in 5-on-5 play; and they're lead by a good group of skaters.

2011-12 - Tomas Plekanec 29 6 18 24 -2 22 3 0 2 77 7.8
2011-12 - Max Pacioretty 26 10 10 20 2 16 0 0 1 90 11.1
2011-12 - Erik Cole 29 9 9 18 4 12 3 0 1 95 9.5
2011-12 - David Desharnais 29 4 12 16 3 12 1 0 1 30 13.3
2011-12 - Brian Gionta 29 8 7 15 -5 16 2 0 0 71 11.3
2011-12 - Mike Cammalleri 24 6 9 15 -1 4 0 0 1 72 8.3
2011-12 - Andrei Kostitsyn 19 8 5 13 -1 6 1 0 3 39 20.5
2011-12 - P.K. Subban 29 1 10 11 4 37 0 0 0 77 1.3

OK, that's a lot of players; but I had to list them all to establish who the main shooters are and who's been picking up points in spite of a lack of shots. With just the above stats to look at, it's not going to be an easy day for a depleted Devils defense. Even without Gionta, Les Habs have four other forwards who can fire off loads of shots on net and a defenseman who brings it from the point. According to Behind the Net, Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole, and P.K. Subban have been driving the play at even strength; Mike Cammalleri is just above zero; Tomas Plekanec is just under zero but has a low offensive zone start; and Andrei Kostitsyn is the only one who's actually negative. These seven skaters are quite important going forward for Montreal, and it could create some match-up problems if Jacques Martin gets these guys going among various units. Going back to the 5-on-5 stats at Behind the Net, all eight of these guys face a decently tough to very tough level of competition regularly. It suggests to me that these Canadiens will not going to be faded going up against a Patrik Elias-centered power line or the Adam Henrique unit getting hot again.

Subban's interesting here not just because he's a defender, but also because he faces very tough competition and eats up a ton of minutes with 23:59 ATOI. I don't care that he only has 11 points, I think he's one of the better top-pairing defensemen in the league. Subban's only 22, so he's only going to get better; which is rather impressive outside of New Jersey-Montreal games. In those game, I kind of wish he wasn't so good! He's usually paired with Josh Gorges, a defensive-minded defender who sucks up pucks like a vaccum. This pairing will give the Devils forwards some problems. That means it would be to New Jersey's benefit for the forwards to beat up on the lower pairings of Raphael Diaz and Hal Gill; along with the new guy Kaberle and possibly the returning Campoli. Yet, as established earlier, this is not a team that leaks a lot of shots.

So at the end of this, I'm not quite sure what's really bugging Montreal outside of some awful luck driving their power play shooting percentage into the toilet and not winning shootouts. I look at everything else and I think Montreal's a pretty good team. Given that they're in the mix in the East like the Devils and several other teams; maybe their missed opportunities have only prevented them from being near the top. Perhaps that alone is enough for the frustration. (That and acquiring Kaberle's awful contract apparently.)

Let's move on to the Devils. Against Ottawa, we learned that Andy Greene is out for four weeks and after the game, Anton Volchenkov suffered further injury to his hand. According to Peter DeBoer in this Friday post by Tom Gulitti, Volchenkov is just day-to-day and might play today. I'd rather not have Volchenkov push his luck if he's not fully healthy; as I don't want the Devils to lose two veteran defensemen so quickly. In response to the injuries, the Devils called up both Alexander Urbom and Matt Taormina from Albany. Urbom's got a lot of potential, which Taormina's more developed as a bit of an offensive-minded defender. What will be interesting is which one of Urbom, Taormina, and Fraser will step in today. Should Volchenkov be unable to play, then two of the three will be selected. Fraser was terrible on Thursday night; but he's remained with the NHL roster all season. He might get the nod in the hopes he'll have a better performance after not playing for so long prior to the Ottawa game. Whoever gets in should be prepared if they see the likes of Plekanec, Cammalleri, Cole, etc. at some point in the game.

Martin Brodeur will definitely be prepared. DeBoer has already stated that he will start this game per this post by Gulitti. While he was pulled after the first period, the coach stated it was more to do with the team's first period performance than necessarily Brodeur's performance. Given that the Devils played worse in the second period, I wonder how successful that move really was - but no matter. I wouldn't be worried about Brodeur. He has a long history of bouncing back; and a consistent domination of today's opponent. As evidence of the latter, here are Brodeur's lifetime stats against Montreal per Yahoo! Sports.

Lifetime vs. Montreal - Martin Brodeur 62 3707 40 17 5 4 109 1.76 1616 1507 .933 9

I love that stat line.

As for the Devils forwards, given that they came from 3-0 deficit to score 4 goals in regulation against Ottawa, they should feel some extra confidence going into this game. Ergo, I wouldn't expect any changes to the forward lines. Price is a far better netminder than Alex Auld and the Montreal defense is better than Ottawa's, so I wouldn't expect a repeat of what happened on Thursday night. The Devils can serve themselves well by putting plenty of rubber on net when they can. There's no shame in taking a good, clear shot on net instead of making a risky pass in the hopes of a better one. That's not a comment on any particular player; just a general observation I noted when this team only put 14 on net against a team who played the night prior and allowed a load (44) of shots. Again, I'm not saying the Devils absolutely have to pile a ton of shots on Price or that they should be expected to. They just shouldn't be below 15 by the end of the second period lest they've got a few of those shots into the net. The line of Adam Henrique, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Zach Parise have been good in recent games in putting up said shots; I just want them to do it with more consistency and the other forwards to follow suit.

Those conclude my thoughts on today's game; so now I want to know yours. How do you see today's game going down? How do you view the Montreal Canadiens as a whole? Who do you want to see step in on defense with Greene out and Volchenkov possibly out? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on today's game in the comments. Thanks for reading.