The road trip heads East before going West.
The Time: 7:30 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: The Devils went into Toronto for a mostly typical game against the Leafs. The Devils owned the shot count, the difference in attempts, and the run of play in general. The Leafs somehow found a way to score regardless. Bryce Salvador's giveaway conceded a shift that ended with a rebound goal by Tyler Bozak in the first period. The Devils would tie it up early in the second on a great shot by Adam Henrique on the power play. The second period became all about penalties and Toronto scored twice. James van Riemsdyk banged in a rebound to make it 2-1 and a later advantage yielded another rebound goal by Bozak. But that goal was waved off the refs on an in accurate call. Ryane Clowe scored his first goal with the Devils on a breakaway shortly after van Riemsdyk's goal to make it 2-2. The third period was a bit slower but Jonathan Bernier continued standing on his head as he has so often has been asked by his team this season. The Devils swarmed overtime but there would be yet no goal after 38 shots and over eighty attempts. A shootout was needed and, well, the usual result happened so the Devils lost 3-2. My recap of the loss is here.
The Last Canadiens Game: Back on Saturday, the Canadiens hosted the Chicago Blackhawks. In a twist, it was Montreal who was bossing Chicago around. They out-shot them significantly in each period: 10-7, 12-8, and 12-5. They drew three first period power plays. Montreal played rather well but Corey Crawford proved to be a tough challenge. Andrei Markov finally rose above it with a wrister past halfway through the second period. Chicago managed to find an equalizer in the third despite a constant need to defend against the Canadien pressure. Marian Hossa finished a sequence involving two very good passes by Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews, Overtime would be necessary and Montreal owned the run of play with four shots to Chicago's no shots. The fourth one came from Markov, who ended the game. Max Pacioretty picked off a D-to-D pass behind the net, the puck bounced out, and Markov fired a laser to the top left corner past Crawford. The Canadiens won 2-1 and Andrew Berkshire called it the best game by Montreal this season in his recap at Habs Eyes on the Prize.
The Last Devils-Canadiens Game: It was December 4 and a bit of a different time. The Devils were hosting the Canadiens in the second half of a home-and-home. Reid Boucher made his debut and made it count with his first NHL assist and (sadly so far) the team's first shootout goal of the season. Michael Ryder showed up and scored a beautiful goal. The Devils scored three goals - in a period! But the third was wild as a 1-0 deficit to the Canadiens (thanks to Brian Gionta in the first period) ended up 3-3. Andrei Loktionov and Ryder scored within the first ten minutes to make it 2-1. Lars Eller responded late by putting in his own rebound. The final two mintues was crazy. P.K. Subban lost the puck in his own end right to Patrik Elias, who buried it for a late 3-2 lead. But in the dying minutes, a hopeful arc from Gionta was re-directed into the net by David Desharnais past Cory Schneider for a 3-3 score. Overtime solved nothing, the shootout at least had a goal by the Devils (Boucher), but the result of shootout games remained: a loss. The Devils dropped this one 4-3. In my recap, I lamented how the Devils played two good games against Montreal but managed to not win either. On the flipside, "theactivestick" had these points as a recap over at Habs Eyes on the Prize.
The Goal: Score some! Seriously, since a wild 5-4 win at Washington, the Devils have scored 18 goals over the last ten games. It was known that scoring would be a problem but with four straight 30+ shot performances, I'm baffled as far as the lack of finish. Cory Schneider was fantastic in the last four games and he deserved better support. Martin Brodeur, who's not nearly as good as Schneider as of late, will start this one and he'll need support. I'm sure the Devils will try to go low-event but it's not a guarantee that will work. The Canadiens are not only a bit fresher but coming off a 2-1 overtime win where they out-possessed the Chicago Blackhawks, the best possession team in the NHL, in Montreal. They can try to clog the neutral zone (I think they should try at least), but I could see this game at a higher tempo than one may want. That means the goals are going to matter. The Devils should certainly keep on attempting, swarming, and shooting but the result's not going to change if they don't put some pucks past Carey Price. Is this obvious? Yes. Is this easier said than done? Yes. Is it important? Yes.
The Goal Will Really Be Difficult: Tom Gulitti reported that Carey Price will start tonight's game for Montreal in this Fire & Ice post on Monday. Price has been excellent this season. His even strength percentage is currently at 93.4%, which is one of the highest among starting goalies. Price has been also superb in shorthanded situations with a 90.1% save percentage.
Why Marty? The Last Three Games: Cory Schneider has been fantastic in the last three games. He's faced plenty of shots from a wide variety of situations. He's given the guys in front of him as much of a chance to win as much as possible. Schneider has been fantastic. He also deserves a night off at some point. If playing in one-goal games on the edge of a knife in three straight starts wasn't enough, then consider that Schneider started both games in a back-to-back that each went about 65 minutes to finish off three starts in four nights. He may be younger but it's a rough run this week with games every other night. Even 27-year old goalies feel fatigue. What's the point of having a back up if you're not going to spell the better guy? So I don't think nostalgia or emotion is entirely the driving factor that Martin Brodeur will start this game, as confirmed by Tom Gulitti on Monday at Fire & Ice. We'll likely see Schneider return as the starter for the next few games anyway. As for Brodeur, I hope he tries to be nimble and busts out one last hurrah in front of a crowd that really likes him. My fingers are crossed because I'd very much want the Devils to leave Montreal with something tonight, preferably a win.
A Flaw with Montreal: The Canadiens definitely put on their working skates against the Chicago Blackhawks as they dominated the run of play. However, it's a big outlier compared to their recent run of play. According to the gamelog at Extra Skater, the Canadiens were below 50% in attempt differential (all situations) in eight of their last ten games; and the one before Chicago that was at 51% was in a 3-1 loss to Philly. Per Extra Skater, Montreal sits in twentieth in the league in close-score Fenwick percentage at 47.8%, which usually means they're usually defending more in 5-on-5 play. I think Montreal will try to build on their game against Chicago, but it's been a problem for the team this season. Given that the Devils are now in the top-ten in close-score Fenwick percentage - thanks Toronto - this is something the Devils should try to exploit.
A Strength of Montreal: Unlike the Devils, the Canadiens have not lacked in scoring. Whereas the Devils have three players with at least ten goals, the Canadiens have five: Max Pacioretty (19!), Tomas Plekanec (14), Brendan Gallagher (11), Alex Galchenyuk (10, who is injured with a broken hand), and Lars Eller (10). Eller is tenth on the team in points with twenty and the others with more points and less than ten points are threatening in their own right. P.K. Subban leads the team with 33 points (7 G, 26 A). Saturday night's hero Andrei Markov has 24 points (5 G, 19 A). Captain Brian Gionta has been more of a distributor in his 23 points (7 G, 16 A). Small forward David Desharnais is a point ahead of Eller with 21 (6 G, 15 A). That's eight forwards and two defensemen with a significant amount of points. That in of itself will make matching-up difficult.
Here's how the roster looked in Monday's practice according to this article by Stu Cowan at Hockey Inside/Out. It's the same as the lineup that beat Chicago if I'm not mistaken. Usually, Subban and Markov have played together. However, Subban paired with Josh Gorges and Markov alongside Alexei Emelin creates a different challenge. The two best defenders on Montreal are separate and can perform against separate lines. When together, they're tough but at least it gives the Devils four other defensemen to push against. That likely won't be the case tonight.
Up front, the killer line may be Pacioretty, Desharnais, and Gallagher. No, they aren't big, they just play big. Their speed can certainly present problems and all three players have been remarkably productive. Pacioretty putting up 19 goals in 37 games is especially good and should require special attention. Gionta and Plekanec are together, while Eller rolls with the offensive-minded Rene Bourque and Daniel Briere. Given Briere's and Bourque's approach to defense, I'd say that line among their top three is the one the Devils should try to pick on. That's assuming they can get a favorable matchup since the Canadiens will have the last change.
It's not just that Montreal has plenty of scorers in front of a really good goalie, but they can have those scorers throughout their lineup in front of a really good goalie. I think that's a reason why they're currently in a solid spot for a playoff seed in the Atlantic Division despite not being all that and a bag of chips in terms of possession.
Other Devils Changes? Your Take: With the Devils holding an optional skate on Monday, we won't know of any changes to the roster until later today. Will Jon Merrill come in for Eric Gelinas? Or for someone else entirely? Will Reid Boucher, Andrei Loktionov, and Mike Sislo remain a line? What do you think should be done? Please leave your answers and your take on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.