After getting Leaf'd on Monday, can we see a turnaround on Wednesday night? And from which team?
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (11-12-5) vs. the Montreal Canadiens (16-9-3; SBN Blog: Eyes on the Prize)
The Last Devils-Canadiens Game: On Monday night, the Devils played the first half of this home-and-home in Montreal. The first period almost could not have gone any better. The Devils made great passes, they pounded Montreal's skaters, and forced Carey Price to be great right from the beginning of the game. They even scored a goal when Steve Bernier re-directed an Anton Volchenkov shot through Price. No complaints at all in the first. However, Montreal got their Toronto on in the second period. One little error by Marek Zidlicky led to a breakdown and Rene Bourque tying up the game on an open short-side shot past Martin Brodeur. Montreal's power play was diffused on their first advantage but they were in complete control on their second. They only got one shot on net but it was a killer one-timer by Max Pacioretty to make it 2-1. Meanwhile, the Devils continued to bomb Price with all kinds of shots only to be denied. There would be an equalizer in the third period and it would come from Michael Ryder of all players. Yes, Ryder did something in a game. He scored on a blistering slap shot to make it 2-2. However, the game got crazy open and a mad up-and-down sequence (where Ryder nearly got a second goal) ended when Alexei Emelin flung a puck towards the net. It bounced off Lars Eller and right to Alex Galchenyuk for a tap-in. The Devils got sloppier and possibly fatigued, the Canadiens played like an actual hockey team, and with Price playing like the 94-95% save percentage goalie he has been, the goal by Galchenyuk would be the difference. It was a not unfamiliar sight for this Devils fan as pointed out in my recap. On the opposite side, Andrew Berkshire says it was a game the Habs did not deserve in his recap at Eyes on the Prize.
The Goal: Don't get complacent; strive for ugliness again. The Devils looked fantastic for the better part of Monday's game. Their passes were on target. If the puck got away, they would recover it. In the few instances of a Montreal player trying to forecheck, there was someone in white in their face. It was great, especially since Montreal had the last line change for an advantage in match-ups. And it likely won't happen again tonight.
The reality is that Montreal is not actually a Toronto-esque team where their success rides and dies with their goalie being super-good and their relatively few shots getting in the net. They're too talented of a team to get housed on two straight nights. Michel Therrien, I think, is too smart of a coach to let it happen again. It would be folly to expect only two Canadien skaters to end up above 50% in possession, or that their entire blueline was forced to scramble more in their own end than get the puck out. The Canadiens looked their best late in Monday's game when the Devils weren't as crisp in their breakouts and neutral zone play. I fear we could see more of that from Montreal and it could doom the Devils. They're not going to hang with this team in an up-and-down, wide-open affair. They really need to do what they can to slow the game down. If the Devils can gain the offensive zone and forecheck like beasts again, great. But I'd bet on making this a low-event game rather than hoping for a second straight beatdown. Again, Montreal is not Toronto.
Rather Than Repeat Myself: Plenty of what I've written in Monday's preview would apply tonight. So please read that if you want a general view of how Montreal has been as a team. Some additional observations relevant to tonight's game follows:
The Danger Line: Montreal had one line that didn't look like total garbage for three periods. It was their unit of Brendan Gallagher, Pacioretty, and David Desharnais. While Pacioretty did his damage on special teams (PPG, SH breakaway), he's still one of Montreal's most prolific shooters. He cannot be left open. Gallagher got denied by Brodeur on one killer-looking one-timer, but he remains a threat as Montreal's leading shooter among forwards. Desharnais is the most interesting of the bunch. He only has nine points in 26 games, but he got eight of them in his last seven with two assists on Monday. They're not big, but they are fast and they can be furious (see: Desharnais battling Jacob Josefson in open ice before Pacioretty's PPG). If Peter DeBoer wants to match Andy Greene's pairing or Travis Zajac's line against a particular unit, then this may be the one to do it. I think Tomas Plekanec, Lars Eller, and others will surely be better tonight, but the one line that didn't stink amid a stinky performance is the one to watch for if the team steps up as a whole.
Have Zubrus & Bernier, Will Battle: When it comes to size, I don't always know what the meaning is. Sure, there can be value in being big. And there can be value in the other meaning, which is associated with physical play. But I don't think it's all that useful unless it comes with some component that leads to possession. Fortunately, the Devils have two players who come with that: Dainius Zubrus and Steve Bernier.
I highlight the two as they highlighted Montreal defenders to win pucks, get through traffic, and move pucks out well from the boards. Zubrus notably plowed through a Hab to feed a breaking Marek Zidlicky for the team's first shot of the game and first real scoring chance. The top line of Zubrus, Zajac, and Jaromir Jagr has been referred to as a "heavy" line and they imposed their will on Montreal for most of Monday's game. Bernier was particularly fierce by firing five shots on net (a re-direction isn't exactly a shot but all goals are shots so the boxscore had him at six) to go with the usual "little things" he does to keep the offense going. While I do think Montreal will put up an effort that doesn't have their fans cheer everytime they get the puck past the red line, they may not be able to overcome the literal size the Devils have up in their top two lines. It played a big role in New Jersey's forecheck on Monday along with their overall attack. If they can establish their size in a positive way again tonight, then that would be a big help tonight.
Stay Away from Special Teams: Montreal's second power play is exactly what I don't want to see and I hate seeing the Devils' power play squander minutes. That is really all I have to say about that.
Keep Going: Damien Brunner put up two shots out of nine attempts last night. Getting blocked five times isn't a good thing. But given that Brunner's recent appearances often ended with few attempts and even fewer shots, this is a step forward. I'd like him to be more accurate tonight but hopefully just as active with the puck. I'd rather a skater try to make something happen and not succeed than just float about.
Keep a Fourth Line: The Devils are playing their sixth game within thirteen days tonight. They looked tired late in the Montreal game. In addition to the heavy schedule, DeBoer has shortened the bench considerably in the last two games. Against Buffalo, it wasn't a big deal because, well, it's Buffalo. Against Montreal, it may have undercut efforts to get a game tying goal. As well as they played, going down to nine forwards (one injury, two shorted) isn't what I want to see tonight. The Devils didn't call anyone up on Wednesday. Combined with how the team played, I suspect we could see the same lineup again. As much as I really don't want to see Cam Janssen or Tim Sestito (and I don't think Mattias Tedenby is much of an improvement other either), I really hope DeBoer can get the fourths a few more shifts. They're not going to do much but as long as they don't get wrecked, it's fine by me if only to spell the top guys for minutes later in the game.
Hope for Henrique: Adam Henrique got hurt on Monday and was absent for the entire third period. I thought he was missed as he was doing quite well early in the game. As much as you may want him to score more, he's a solid player and he does well at both ends. His role is not an easy one to fill given who is left on the roster. Fortunately, I don't think the injury is too bad. Again, the team did not immediately call up a forward. For another, Tom Gulitti reported on Tuesday at Fire & Ice that Peter DeBoer says it's a "game-time decision." That suggests it's minor and he shouldn't be out too long. I hope he is good to go. A top six of Zubrus-Zajac-Jagr followed by Henrique-Elias-Bernier would help in match-ups and overall play better than, say, Brunner-Elias-Bernier.
One Guaranteed Change: While a few players did practice (including Ryane Clowe), Gulitti did report one major change for this game on Tuesday: Cory Schneider will start. I don't think Brodeur was bad on Monday. But I have no issue with this. It's a busy schedule, the two will likely split the back-to-back at the end of this week, and Schneider stays fresh.
What Of Montreal: Like the Devils, most of the Habs took Tuesday off. According to this report by Stu Cowen at Hockey Inside/Out, there's not a whole lot of news for tonight's game. Some of the skaters played on Monday - this technically includes Michael Bourenival and Brandon Prust - so it's not really an indication of who's in or who's out. We may see Peter Budaj in net tonight, but who knows? Carey Price will have had a full day off and could certainly be up for another game. Based on the numbers, neither is a preferable option.
Again, I highly doubt Montreal's bottom six will be so terrible again along with Tomas Plekanec doing so little going forward (he's usually so good at that). If you're looking for someone to have a bounce-back game, look to those beyond the danger line at forward. On defense, well, beyond P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov, there's not much anyway.
Your Take: The Devils return home and will likely have a challenger more up to the challenge tonight. How do you think Montreal will play after pulling off a Toronto impersonation on Monday? How do you think the Devils should prepare for that? What would you do with the team's lineup right now? Who do you think has to have a big night tonight? Do you feel confident the Devils can get a winning result? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.