Overall, we got to see a throwback performance by the New Jersey Devils against the Montreal Canadiens. That is, it was reminiscent of many games from the lockout-shortened 2013 season. The Devils dominated in possession and even heavily out-shot their opposition. They even scored first. But the opposition just needed three good opportunities and they converted on them. The Devils could only respond to two of them and that was the game.
The twist was that the game was more even since Montreal's third goal. The Devils got sloppier with the puck. Players got gassed, poorer decisions were made, and Montreal played with more pep in their step. Perhaps it was also a result of frustration. They threw 30 shots at Carey Price with most of them coming in dangerous areas, P.K. Subban denied two pucks off the goal line, and Adam Henrique hit a crossbar. They gained Montreal's zone whenever they wanted. The defense read the play beautifully for two periods and made great passes. The line of Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac, and Jaromir Jagr bossed Montreal around for the better part of three periods. On most nights, one would expect multiple goals to be scored. Tonight, they only got a re-direction by Steve Bernier and a rare and wonderful shot by Michael Ryder past Price. Even Damien Brunner tried to do things with some success. Plenty went right in this game for New Jersey. And it wasn't enough.
As stated earlier, Montreal just needed a few chances and they got them. The first started with Marek Zidlicky overskating a dumped in puck in the second period. Montreal, who had no semblence of a forecheck until the third period, was able to recover and attack. Subban kept the puck in at the point, Zidlicky broke away from Rene Bourque when the puck got to the point, David Desharnais made a pretty pass to Bourque and all of sudden he's wide open. Bourque beat Martin Brodeur shortside for an equalizer. Later, the fearsome Montreal power play flexed their muscle for about a minute. The Devils couldn't get to the puck at all, Desharnais denied Jacob Josefson from clearing the puck, Andrei Markov recovered and slid it across to Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty took the lone power play shot on net for Montreal and it was in as it was a cross-ice one-timer that no one was going to stop. Minutes after Ryder tied up, the game got chaotic. Teams traded chances. All of a sudden, Alexei Emelin throws a puck towards the net, it bounces off Lars Eller's skate in traffic, and dropped perfectly for Alex Galchenyuk to slam into the net. That's all it took. I'd only say the first goal was really stoppable by Brodeur, though I'd assign more blame on Zidlicky.
I will give the Canadiens this. They did play harder in the third period. After Galchenyuk's goal, the Canadiens found space on the wings, they got a forecheck going, and they stepped up their play in the neutral zone. They came close to scoring a fourth goal, actually. As the Devils started missing passes and losing pucks, the Canadiens jumped up. It was telling that with less than two minutes to play, they denied Brodeur a chance to get out of the net and they filled in spaces beautifully in a 6-on-5 situation. If they were second rate for a majority of the game, then they picked the right time to wake up, to so speak. The third period ended even in shots, though attempts were largely in favor of New Jersey.
All the same, Montreal was French for Toronto tonight. The Canadiens were Maple Leafs in disguise. The Devils out-attempted them 63-39 in all situations and 54-31 in 5-on-5 play. The Devils had the majority of scoring chances. The Devils got some impressive performances from Bernier and Ryder (he did score, I'll give him that) among the usual suspects. That's what makes this loss more frustrating. The Devils did a lot of good things for most of the night and yet did not end up with a result. That was so many games in the 2013 season. It's even worse when you consider Montreal's not nearly as bad as Toronto and they should do much better on Wednesday.
The Opposition Opinion: In this quick recap, theactivestick noted that the Canadiens did turn into Maple Leafs at Eyes on the Prize. It's entitled "Jersey Snore," for what it's worth. Funny how games where the Devils do really well for long stretches tend to be boring for the opposition's fans.
The Game Highlights: This NHL.com video does have proof of Ryder scoring a goal. And a whole lot of big stops by Price.
More Bad News: If the loss wasn't enough, then consider that the Devils may be down another man. Adam Henrique didn't take a shift at all in the third period. The team's official PR account tweeted that he would be out with a lower body injury. I don't know exactly what it could be or when it happened. But that turned out to be a big loss. In the 11:18 he did play, he put three shots on net, hit the crossbar, and got free for one big miss. He was up 10-5 in terms of attempts. He was on his way to having a good game and had he kept getting looks, maybe even score. I missed him out there and not just because Brunner filled in his spot next to Patrik Elias and Bernier. I hope whatever it is, it's minor.
Two-Thirds Awesome D: Andy Greene was a boss. Mark Fayne looked good as well. The rookie pairing of Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas looked like veterans at times, especially early in the game. I really liked what I saw out of them when they weren't gassed. The only pairing that had trouble was Zidlicky and Anton Volchenkov. They were the only pairing that had struggled at times by my eye and it was mostly from Zidlicky. I know he likes to gamble but he really made a mess of it on the first goal against and he nearly got torched by not getting the puck on his pinches. He looked so good to start the game but his performance faded.
Everything but the Goal: In a way, the play by Zubrus, Zajac, and Jagr summed up the night. They were awesome at winning pucks, getting in Montreal's end, and setting up dangerous shots. Yet they could not beat Price except for that one time Jagr curled the puck around him - only to be denied by Subban. When the team needed possession late, even they wavered as pucks bounced off sticks or got away from them. I am not at all complaining how they did tonight. The three combined for seven shots on net out of a total of 16 attempts. That doesn't include the defensemen that bombed away when they fed them the puck. They made Josh Gorges, Subban, Markov, and Emelin look like pylons at times. The problem was that Price played like he was a near 95% save percentage goalie (because he is). A few Canadiens skaters made some vital interventions, namely Gorges stopping Zajac from a one-on-one with the Price. Still, they put in the work and yet ended up with
Beefy Night: Steve Bernier was massive. He played like he was Zubrus only with a lot more shots. He got five on net in addition to his re-direction goal. The goal itself was what you want from him. He worked hard to keep the puck on his stick in the corner. He got some help to get it out and then immediately went to the net. As Volchenkov took a wild shot, Bernier was in the right place to tip it in. Bernier nearly fooled Price at least two other times. He's not just up with Elias just to be a physical presence. He's making the most of his time up in the top six and I'm enjoying what he's done so far.
Brunner & Ryder Existed: Ryder's shot was fantastic. He didn't do a whole lot beyond that but I'm not going to complain about a guy who snapped a long goalless streak. Brunner was forced into a more prominent role with Henrique out and he tried his best. He finished the night with two shots on net, five attempts blocked, and two misses. Given that we've seen one or zero attempt nights from him, that's rather massive. Brunner even drew a hook for the team's first power play. For once I can say that I wasn't disappointed in either or wondering where they were on the ice. That's a silver lining, at least.
I Hate This Power Play: The Devils had three power plays tonight, put up a total of three shots on net, and conceded two shorthanded shots. The bar is set so low for these that I was actually pleased with the first power play if only for gaining the zone twice with the puck. But overall, that's just not good enough. The third one was the most crushing. Not only did it nearly end with a shorthanded goal for Pacioretty, but it came late in the third period with the Devils down 2-3. Emelin flung a puck over the glass. It was a gift of an opportunity. Yet, the Devils struggled to gain the zone. When they did, the puck was passed around three guys with two standing about filling space in front. No one not named Brunner wanted to just rip a shot. Again, we saw Zajac and Elias at the point despite the team having four defensemen that can hold a point on offense (Greene, Zidlicky, Merrill, and Gelinas). Again, there's a lack of movement to open up lanes. It's obvious to anyone that the Devils' power play simply is not working to the level it could be, and it's ineffectiveness was a factor in tonight's loss. Why Dave Barr and Peter DeBoer haven't realized this, I do not know.
On Goalies: Well, Price was utterly brilliant. I thought Brodeur was OK. He moved the puck very well outside of the net, as usual. I think the goal allowed to Bourque was stoppable. I'm noticing a rise in short-side shots beating him. But certainly not the other two. He also had to deny Pacioretty on a breakaway and Brendan Gallagher (he played tonight!) on a one-timer in the third to keep it a one-goal game. So it's not as if he had no difficult shots to stop. Aside from the Bourque goal, I don't have any complaints about him. I don't think the Devils would have won with Cory Schneider in net. That said, I also wouldn't complain if Schneider got Wednesday's game. Again, the problem tonight was beating one of the best goalies in the league, not how many Montreal scored.
On Sestito: Tim Sestito played in limited minutes, registered two shots on net (there's an example of how much in control the Devils were, even Tim Sestito took two shots), and didn't get destroyed. A full fourth line would have been nice tonight but the other three lines were doing enough to make the absence feel small. Sestito very nearly had a very scary cut when Brandon Prust's skate went high and struck him in the face. Thankfully, it was the heel of the skate and not the blade so he just needed a rest. Sestito played as well as one could reasonably expect of him;
A Warning: I'm going to make this point again in the preview of Wednesday's game, but it's worth making here. Montreal will be better on Wednesday. I can't imagine Michel Therrien was pleased at all with his team being out-shot 30-17 by one of the lowest shooting teams in the league in their own rink. He's glad about the result but likely won't be about the performance. Nearly the entire Montreal roster was defending more than attacking at evens and that includes some players who are usually better than that (e.g. Subban, Markov, Tomas Plekanec, Eller, etc.). I do think the Devils put in an very good performance overall against a very good team, fading late aside. But I don't expect it to happen a second time two days later. Expect a sharper Canadiens team on Wednesday. Another reason to lament this loss.
Your Take: How did you feel about this throwback performance from 2013? Can the Devils possibly repeat this against Montreal again? Who among the Devils did you like the most? Who did you like the least? Did you miss Henrique? What do the Devils have to differently - other than score goals - for the return game on Wednesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.