It was a long time in the desert, but tonight there was an oasis. It just so happened to be at the Bell Center. After about three weeks of one-goal wins and non-wins of varying deficits, the New Jersey Devils finally found some finish. They vanquished the Montreal Canadiens 4-1. Yes, that is indeed a 4-1 win. Three goals against Carey Price and an empty net goal. For the first time since December 18, the Devils won a game by more than one goal. After four games of a lot of shots on net and very few goals, the Devils got four in just 19 shots tonight. It happened on the road, against a strong team coming off a great game, and it ended in regulation.
The goals themselves were impressive. The first one came from a man who hasn't done it since a crazy night in D.C.: Jaromir Jagr. Dainius Zubrus passed it back to him, a crowd built up in front of Price, Jagr went towards them and somehow threaded the puck through to the far post. The second came from a man who could have used one to help his case to stay with New Jersey: Eric Gelinas. Sandwiching two bad power plays, Gelinas hit the entire Montreal organization with the Truth to convert their second power play. It wasn't so much threading a needle as it was firing a bullet through one. The third one came from a man who's been scoring goals on a line that's been playing well: Adam Henrique. As Ryane Clowe's attempt at going to the net ended up going into Price, Henrique put home the loose puck. Henrique has scored a goal like that somewhat recently - last week against Philly - but the team could have really used more of them. The Devils scoring three goals these days is a feat. Doing it to build a 3-1 lead was fantastic.
Montreal would try to respond to the two goal lead and they did overall. They hung 30 shots on Martin Brodeur. They did come close to cutting the lead twice. Tomas Plekanec hit a post off the rush. Brendan Gallagher was judged to kick a puck in - more like dragged his foot to direct the puck - so he had a goal waved off. But Brodeur was stubborn elsewhere. He denied Max Pacioretty right in front early in the third. He held the left post very well against Rene Bourque trying to knock one up and past him in the second. The one that beat Brodeur was a bad goal to allow and it happened fairly early when Max Pacioretty took all of the shortside Brodeur conceded. But I'd say he redeemed himself and the 29 other saves taken in total would agree. One bad goal out of an otherwise good game. Whether this was his last game in Montreal is one thing, I'm just glad it was a winning effort.
However, Montreal's approach to getting to 30 shots was weird. They had some stretches where they really did pin the Devils back. Such as the first few minutes after Henrique's goal and the first four minutes of the third. It didn't matter what line it was and what pairing it was, they just kept the puck away and firing it ahead. But then there would be stretches where Montreal's offense really only came from counter-attacks. The Devils would hit back with possession. It doesn't show in the shot count, but consider shooting attempts per the Extra Skater game stats. In all situations, the Devils were only down 57-50. In 5-on-5 play, the Devils were actually ahead 43-40 in attempts. That's not at all bad for a team up two goals, particularly one who hasn't had a two-or-more goal lead in a while. For much of the third period, the Devils may have only given credit for one shot on Price. But the boos from the Montreal faithful as they were stuck back as time ticked off the clock highlighted the spot Montreal was in.
Ultimately, the last minute or so was a real good way to end it. Montreal pulled Price for an extra skater, only I didn't really notice it until the final minute when they kept the puck in the zone. The Devils conceded only one shot, one missed shot, one blocked shot, and turned it around on that block. Jagr won the puck off the block, drew a hook, played it out wide for Dainius Zubrus. Zubrus did a spin move and flung a backhander right to the empty net. 4-1 Devils and a big win on this road trip was sealed.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Habs Eyes on the Prize, Mike Obrand had this short reaction post. He calls himself HabsLaughs and immediately goes to the "Devils are boring" well. If tonight's game bored you, then may I suggest a different sport, Mike?
The Game Highlights: Plenty of highlights in this game per this video at NHL.com:
Newfoundline: I'm going to make this line name stick. Tonight, the three men that make up that line confirmed that they should stay together. Michael Ryder, Ryane Clowe, and Adam Henrique were among the Devils' best from an attempts standpoint. They didn't necessarily out-shoot their competition in 5-on-5, but they were a big reason why the game was not as imbalanced as a 30-19 shot count implies. The line had more shots on net than the other three (Ryder: 4, Henrique: 2, Clowe: 1), created the Devils' third goal, Michael Ryder was absolutely robbed after a lovely pass by Clowe in a 2-on-1 that could have made it 4-1 in the second period, and they just kept the Plekanec line and Montreal's fourths on their heels. That's a very good night's work. The only one big error led to the only goa against and that was more on Ryder than the line. Let's hope the good times with this line continues.
Bossing: I really, really, really liked the work Andy Greene and Mark Fayne put in tonight. They did get bailed out by the replay officials in Toronto as Fayne and Greene were in awkward positions for Gallagher's denied goal. I'm not sure about Greene's interference call, either. (It was sort of glossed over by the broadcast since Jagr scored an milestone goal.) But other than that, they were very good. They were composed in their own end. They rushed only when they really needed to do so. If they got caught up, then they were able to recover to deny a play (Brandon Prust being denied a one-on-one by Greene comes to mind). Not only were they good as one could expect in their own end, but they pushed that puck forward better than any one else. Fayne's 5-on-5 attempt differential was a crazy 20-4; Greene was similarly crazy at 24-9. These two played plenty and to do that well is simply great. That's like, what, only a handful of negative shifts even if that? Who's the boss? Fayne and Greene are the bosses.
Nonbossing: On the flipside, someone check the back of Marek Zidlicky and Bryce Salvador for tire marks. They got run over by Montreal at evens. Zidlicky and Salvador were pinned back a lot. Peter DeBoer actually cut Salvador's minutes to only 12:43 at evens. Zidlicky, on the other hand, played more and suffered more. It wasn't just Montreal putting on pressure, it was the botched clearances, the decisions that nearly went awry, the puck chasing, and so forth that "helped" the cause. Whereas Greene, Fayne, Anton Volchenkov, and Jon Merrill had good games; these two were not. Oof.
Go With Seven?: On the one hand, Eric Gelinas only played eleven shifts for 8:08. On the other hand, Gelinas contributed a jackhammer of power play goal so he did his job. The big shot wasn't as necessary as the team didn't exactly need offense as they were with a lead for a change. A fast, counter-attacking team could have given Gelinas the same problems they gave Salvador and Zidlicky. So if he could be protected, then so be it. Going back to the original hand, Gelinas' inclusion meant another night of varying centers for Mike Sislo and Reid Boucher for seven shifts. Then again, those two likely only play that many shifts and the centers in question are better than Andrei Loktionov anyway. Jon Merrill did all right tonight so it's not an easy decision as to what we'll see on Thursday.
Mark's Done, Mike's Next: Jagr wasn't all that on possession as usual but he did plenty of good things going forward. After making the least out of a great chance early in the game, Jagr was threatening as usual on offense. I loved his one-timer in the second period, his passes did not go astray, and he finally snapped his ten-game goalless streak. I'm not even sure how it got in. I know Price didn't see it, but how it got through all of those legs is a bit of a mystery to me. Anyway, I was a fan of his game tonight despite ending up on the wrong end of attempt differential. Seeing Jagr out for the final defensive stand was a bit of a risk to me but it turned out for the best as he got the big clearance and set up the game-sealing goal. This is to say I enjoyed his night.
With the goal, he is now officially ahead of Mark Messier with 695 career goals. Mike Gartner is next on the list with 703. It's going to take a torrid run of play to get there. It'll be fun to see Jagr try.
The Worst Call Yet?: One could argue Teemu Selanne getting tagged for a double-minor for a high-stick his teammate did was the worst call in a Devils game this season. There was a new challenger late in the second period. Ryane Clowe was given two minutes for high-sticking. While the Devils were attacking, Clowe was set up on the right side of the crease. As Max Pacioretty watched, the defender, Francis Bouillon was trying to get position from behind Clowe. Bouillon raised his stick, which struck Pacioretty in the face. This happened a couple of feet away where Clowe was. Yet, the ref awarded the foul against the Devils. That was a heinous call. Thankfully, the Devils killed it. Was it the worst call of the season in a Devils game? Possibly.
By the by, any Montreal fan whining about the refs should be reminded about this absolutely gift of a call that their team got. Remind them constantly, too.
Special Teams Summary: The Devils weathered plenty from Montreal's dangerous power play. They conceded six shots on three advantages and no goals. That's a win even if it meant a lot of tense play, watching Montreal string the Devils along with pass after pass. The Devils did convert on a power play tonight, which is usually good. But that was the only official shot, which is weird because I swear I saw Price make a save late in the first period on the second advantage. Outside of the second advantage, the Devils simply could not get into the zone to get set up. It was hard to watch, simply put. It made me realize that if we're going to consider reasons why the Devils don't have a better record, then the lack of a threatening power play seems like a big one. Good thing Gelinas gave Montreal The Truth because honestly, the Devils were otherwise terrible on the man advantage tonight.
Hockey: It's a Team Game!: As well as Martin Brodeur played to stop 29 out of 30, the one that beat him was a stoppable goal. Pacioretty came down on the offwing and fired one right past Brodeur. No screen. No deflection. No crazy arc. Just a shot that beat him straight up. However, as Brodeur deserves most of the blame for that one, there were two other parts of that play that I hated. First, Zidlicky was technically back. He just saw Pacioretty did what he did. He didn't try to apply pressure or get in his face as if Pacioretty was Montreal's leading goalscorer, which he is. Second, the rush began when Ryder turned the puck over at Montreal's blueline. He did a drop pass back to nobody. Pacioretty swooped up the puck, turned, and eventually scored. Again, I'm not disagreeing that it was a soft goal. I'm just pointing out that other failures happened on this play.
Poor Price: Eighteen shots against, three goals allowed, and I don't think any can really be pinned on him. Montreal fans, this is your reminder of that weird feeling where the save percentage takes a big hit even though Price wasn't really bad in net.
The Big Four: The majority of the 30 shots they got tonight came from only four Canadiens. Rene Bourque had six. Pacioretty, Plekanec, and Gallagher had five each. Those three are among Montreal's top scorers so it's not that surprising they would lead the way. All three played rather well tonight, too. Bourque hasn't been that prolific of a shooter, but he had a real good game tonight on Montreal's power play. He had four of the team's six shots and they weren't soft shots either. They were close and with power.
Question: Was that the real P.K. Subban out there tonight or someone else wearing his jersey? He was such a nonfactor, I have to ask.
Your Take: I believe this was a significant win. From a viewing perspective, it was great to see the Devils actually have a cushion and still managed to maintain it. Who impressed you the most tonight? What did you think of the Devils performance, especially after they went up 3-1 and Montreal remembered they have to attack to catch up? What worked best for the Devils in your eyes and what could have gone much better? Based on what you saw, what should the Devils try to work on for their next game against Colorado? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter through @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.