Martin Brodeur returns to Montreal. You know it's going to be A Thing.
The Time: 6:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, RDS; Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils hosted the Washington Capitals on Friday. The Devils didn't play particularly well to start but shortly after a penalty kill, Jacob Josefson got through on a rush, got clobbered, and got the puck to an open Stephen Gionta for the game's opening goal. The Caps started off the second period well but the Devils slowly took the period over and then doubled their lead when Patrik Elias converted a 5-on-3. The Devils looked good to start the third but then they took five penalties within six minutes, including two too many men on the ice calls and an abuse of official calls. Yes, Peter DeBoer had a direct hand in 6 PIM and the Capitals got on the board during one of the two-man disadvantages the Devils put themselves when Mike Ribiero scored on the backdoor. A David Clarkson giveaway led to a Mike Green shot getting through traffic to equalize late. Fortunately for the Devils, they took control of overtime, ran a good power play, and Ilya Kovalchuk scored on sharp angle to give New Jersey the 3-2 win. The Devils' performance was dumb at times and they blew a 2-0 lead but they got the result. My recap of the game is here.
The Last Canadiens Game: Montreal's most recent game also was against the Washington Capitals. The Canadiens took to the ice for their first road game this season and eventually dropped a hammer on the Caps. The first period was scoreless, however two early penalties led to a Tomas Plekanec score to put the Canadiens up. About a minute and another Caps penalty later and Andrei Markov made it 2-0. Brian Gionta tipped in a Rene Bourque shot to make it 3-0; and a shot from the point by Josh Gorges made it 4-0. One period, four goals scored, and Montreal cruised for the rest of the game. Joey Crabb got a late consolation goal but Montreal's victory was set. Andrew Berkshire of Habs Eyes on the Prize recapped the game, noting that it wasn't particularly entertaining but was pleased with the win all the same.
The Goal: Make better decisions. In my opinion, the root cause of taking too many penalties, allowing open and close shots in the slot, chasing guys in their own end, and all of the other aspects of the last two Devils games that irked us so comes down to decision making. There's not going to be a game without some kind of error, but the Devils could certainly stand to start periods off more aware of the game, . This means clearing the puck into space and not into bodies. This means when three guys are at the blueline ready for a breakout and not passing it to the one guy who isn't covered. This means that when there's a shooting lane and all other teammates are covered, the puck carrier should shoot instead of forcing a pass. This means keeping the stick on the ice instead on an opponent's body. It hasn't been all bad by any means and I'm pretty confident that some of the errors like three bench-related minors won't be repeated tonight or anytime soon. That said, I doubt the Devils are going to get a third straight win unless they smarten up for at least a complete period or two. If they can cut down on the mental mistakes, then they got a good chance as any to earn their fourth straight win.
Speaking of a good chance as any, the Devils' expected starter should have one to succeed this evening. His name is Martin Brodeur and he's going to be in net against Montreal in Montreal. For the unaware, this is your reminder of how amazing Martin Brodeur has been against Montreal. His career record against Les Habs is 43-18 with a 93.1% save percentage, a 1.79 goals against average, and nine shutouts. As Tom Gulitti noted in this Saturday post at Fire & Ice, Brodeur's lifetime stats at Bell Centre are 19-8-1, a 94.4% save percentage, a goals against average of 1.53, and five shutouts. The Canadiens faithful both marvel and mutter words to themselves when #30 from New Jersey is in net against them, and for good reason. Tonight will hopefully be more of the same.
What's more is that Brodeur has been great so far this season. He's only been beaten three times in three games and none of them were remotely close to his fault. Brodeur has bailed out the Devils most notably against Philadelphia and Washington when the rest of the team seemed like they were skating in mud, so Montreal fans shouldn't be too surprised if Brodeur does something spectacular looking. Hopefully, Mike Boone of Hockey Inside/Out gets to call him Martin F. Brodeur yet again later this evening. The F, of course, stands for fantastic.
As for the rest of the team, the Devils held practice on Saturday. The big change according to Tom Gulitti's report at Fire & Ice is that Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk skated with a new linemate at left wing: Stefan Matteau. Matteau was called up from his junior team and has appeared in the team's first three games. He got limited minutes in all three, showed a tendency to shoot, and didn't look too out of place. For a first taste of professional hockey, it's gone decently enough. He has been protected in terms of utilization, most notably with less than six minutes against Washington on Friday. Moving up to the top line means he'll see some of the best players on Montreal in action for some part of the game. I would have preferred Jacob Josefson, since he's been moved up to the top six in games already and he's had two good games in a row. I guess Peter DeBoer wants to see how he'll handle it before making an in-game change - maybe the change I preferred for all I know. That will depend on how this game goes. After tonight, Matteau can appear in only one more game before his entry level contract begins. We may be close to the end of Matteau in New Jersey for this season so giving him a "prime" spot may be in light of that. I also think it's an indictment of Mattias Tedenby who had this same opportunity against the Caps, still saw plenty of the bench after the first period, and got picked on at evens. After all, Matteau's last spot in the lineup is where Tedenby was in practice. I doubt it's a coincidence.
Other than that, the only change to the lineup might be the return of Cam Janssen. That's just a change in name only, as DeBoer will continue to use at most eleven forwards out of twelve. Not that I want Janssen to take a regular shift, I'm just pointing it out. This would also mean that Adam Larsson will sit another game. It's getting to be a bit annoying, however the team defense has been solid in terms of shots allowed. They've been sloppy in their own end, but that's just as much (if not moreso) on the forwards backchecking as well as the defenders. Marek Zidlicky is the only one who brings offense, Anton Volchenkov is critical to a strong penalty killing unit, and Henrik Tallinder hasn't been all that bad either. That means Larsson is left on the outside. It is what it is.
Speaking of defenders on the outside, the big story with Montreal in this early part of the 2013 season is P.K. Subban. He's still a restricted free agent and the Canadiens have been playing hardball with him. Considering a reported offer of $5 million over two years based on this tweet by TSN's Darren Dreger, maybe it should be called lowball. Habs Eyes on the Prize has an excellent on-going stream of this story from all angles. All you need to know about Subban is that he's a top-pairing defenseman who has contributed quite a lot at both ends of the rink at the age of 22. As Bruce Peter explained in this particular post at Habs Eyes on the Prize, Subban's performance last season places him among a great group of defensemen who all have been paid rather well. Yet Montreal is balking at giving Subban a similar amount of money. I understand it's to Montreal's advantage to not spend more money than he has to, but this is ridiculous. As is talk about trading him. You're the Canadiens. You're loaded with funds. You just bought out Scott Gomez' awful contract to make space. You have enough space now. You have the opportunity to sign a star defenseman who's young and oozing talent. You know how good he can be. You can even give him a one-year deal with a promise of a bigger contract in the summer. Pay the man! Cut the check! Make a deal!
Montreal's start to the season has undercut said outcries, however. The team has only allowed four goals in three games, the second lowest behind New Jersey in the NHL. Carey Price has been excellent with a 95.3% save percentage. The Montreal defense is more than capably led by a healthy Andrei Markov, who has three goals, an assist, seven shots on net, and an average ice time of 23:47. The top Devils forwards will see plenty of Markov as will the PK units since Markov runs them so well. He's well supported too. Francis Bouillon is a veteran who plays above his small stature. Josh Gorges has been in own end quite a lot but he has taken on the toughs according to Behind the Net. Alexei Yemelin fits in as a second pairing defender. Tomas Kaberle is another experienced defender though he's now on the third pairing. Raphael Diaz hasn't been good in possession (again, per Behind the Net) but he does have five assists to lead the team, so he's been productive. Montreal has allowed an average of 28.3 shots per game, which is the eighth best in the league prior to Saturday's games. Their penalty kill success rate sits at 82.3%, which is above the current league average. That's all pretty solid. In total, it's not one of the best defenses in the league but it's got the job done thanks to Markov being active and healthy. Since they've started off so well, the team may believe they don't need Subban right away. I think that's shortsighted; Subban can make it a great blueline group.
Montreal's forwards, like the Devils' forwards, haven't been lighting the lamp too much but they will pose a threat tonight. While the Canadiens have only averaged 25.7 shots per game (the Devils are at 29.7 for what it's worth), they do have plenty of skill such as the adept Tomas Plekanec, team captain and big little man Brian Gionta, the playmaking skills of David Desharnais, headshot artist Erik Cole (maybe it's good that Larsson isn't in this game?), and volume shooter Rene Bourque. In any case, the thre only has four goals between them so far - two each for Plekanec and Gionta - but as the season progresses, they will rack up the points. No disrespect intended for Ryan White, Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong, or Alex Galchenyuk (he's up with the team from juniors, not bad either with seven shots and a goal in limited minutes), but those are the forwards the Devils should command most of their attention tonight. Especially Plekanec's line if only because he is the team's best forward. While DeBoer won't have the last line change tonight, I wonder if he's going to try to get the Patrik Elias-led line out against Plekanec's whenever he can anyway.
I did leave out one important player and that's because the Devils will not see him tonight: Max Pacioretty. TSN reported just last night that Pacioretty underwent an emergency appendicectomy procedure and he will be out for three to four weeks. That's some bad news for the Canadiens. Pacioretty currently leads the Canadiens in shots with ten, he has four assists, and he's got the highest on-ice Corsi rate among Montreal forwards in this short season. He hasn't scored yet, but he most certainly will. He did score 33 out of 289 shots last season. Like Plekanec and Gionta, Pacioretty was expected to be one of Montreal's top scorers. There was some concern over whether he would play tonight regardless. Brenda Branswell reported on Saturday afternoon at Hockey Inside/Out that Pacioretty was ill and head coach Michel Therrien stated that Lars Eller would be back in the lineup for this game. Branswell's report also included the news that Eller skated in Pacioretty's place alongside Cole and Desharnais. I would think he'll take his spot for more than just tonight's game. Again, this is some bad news for Montreal and it's one less offensive player the Devils have to be worried about.
Tonight's game should be a good early test for both teams. This will be the first game where the Devils are playing against a team who won at least one game already. This will be Montreal's first game against an Atlantic Division team. Both teams have had fairly light schedules so far - Montreal will be more rested for this one - and from this game on, there will be fewer days of rest. We will hope that the Devils play smarter, more disciplined, and achieve more possession. The Canadien faithful will hope they can contain the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, David Clarkson, Elias, and Zajac and get some rubber past their beloved nemesis, Martin Brodeur. It should make an entertaining end to the weekend.
Now I want to know your take on tonight's game. What do you think the Devils absolutely need to accomplish beat Montreal other than the obvious answer of score more goals than them? Will the Devils do what you think they need to do to beat Montreal? How long do you think Stefan Matteau will be on the top line tonight? Can the Devils play a smarter game and get through a Markov-led blueline? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.