When one of the best teams in the National Hockey League are the opponents for the night, it's natural for expectations to shift. The Montreal Canadiens, as I've detailed in the game preview, is the best team in the Eastern Conference. The New Jersey Devils are decidedly not the best team in the Eastern Conference. Therefore, I don't view a 2-3 shootout loss to be a big failing by the Devils. Yes, they had a 2-0 lead go away. Yes, they dropped their first game - albeit post-regulation - after leading by two periods. Yes, they got bossed in the third period and Montreal had the better run of play in overtime. Getting a point in an extended shootout is still not at all a bad result. Especially considering how the Devils played tonight.
For the most part, I'd say the Devils should be pleased with how they stacked up with the Canadiens. It's true that the visitors weren't as sharp or as killer as expected. Still, there were flashes of dominance. Whether it was a stunning save on Tomas Plekanec in the first period by Cory Schneider or an extra long offensive shift featuring P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov swallowing up zone exit attempts, there were many reminders that, yes, these Canadiens can play. When they were able to get odd man situations against the Devils - and they did - it was certainly problematic. It led to a goal by Sven Andrighetto and a breakaway by Alex Galchenyuk that tied the game is an odd-man rush by it's nature (1-on-0 skaters). A very good team like Montreal can and did make New Jersey pay for all that.
Yet, there were several positives. The Devils held a shot and possession lead for the first two periods. The Devils loved playing Jeff Petry and Nathan Beaulieu then. They also generated odd man situations of their own, sometimes in response to Montreal's. The first goal of the game came off a 4-on-2, with John Moore and Adam Henrique pitching it back and forth before Henrique blasted one past Mike Condon. The Devils' penalty kill was superb in the beginning and only had one really bad time. Even then, they came out of it perfect. The Devils' power play was much better than what it was against Columbus - and Lee Stempniak got a conversion. John Moore and Damon Severson didn't get wrecked. Most of all, they held a team that's used to scoring at least three goals per game and walking through most opponents to merely two and needing two periods to figure things out.
I would have loved it if Stempniak's shootout attempt went in, or if Eric Gelinas didn't wipe out a power play in overtime, or if the Devils' offense surfaced more often in the third. But I think the Devils should come away from this one unhappy or displeased with how things went. Tomorrow night will be a tougher game for multiple reasons. Montreal will have the last change, better nights for the Canadiens will just be problematic for New Jersey, and tonight's third period showed that quality players - again, Subban and Markov - can turn things around and Montreal has those players. Still, the Devils showed Montreal that they aren't doormats. Taking a top team to a five-round shootout isn't something crummy teams do. With that in mind, getting a point tonight sits fine with me all the same.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Advanced Stats
The Opposition Opinion: From Eyes on the Prize, Aruny Siv has this short recap, praising the play of Sven Ardighetto. A goal and a shootout winner would do that.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight's highlights:
Go Click on that Natural Stat Trick Link: You will see a better visual representation of how this game went than anything I can describe. Montreal owned the third period and a big chunk of overtime, after New Jersey had the better part of the play in the first two periods. The game ended with New Jersey being out-attempted 37-51 when it was roughly even (29-30, IIRC?) after the second. Given that that the Devils were leading and leading early in that period, being even with a strong team like Montreal is a nice feat. The Devils decided to cut back on over-passing it - zone entries weren't a huge issue until later in the third - and it showed for most of the middle frame. Quality and better execution by Montreal led them to take over in the third, though. Even strength isn't any kinder with New Jersey being out-attempted 26-41 there.
A Line That Kind of Shined, A Line That Didn't: The Devils' offense is top heavy as it relies on five forwards among their top two lines. Henrique and Stempniak scored so that unit showed up. I enjoyed what I saw from Lee Stempniak as he not only scored a power play goal - a second effort after his one-timer in front was denied - but he took a whopping seven shots on net. That's a whole lot of hustle from #20. I wasn't a fan of Mike Cammalleri. Especially as the game went on as he deferred from shooting more often that he should and he was losing control of the puck more easily than Stempniak and Henrique late. Still, that line was doing good, productive work before they were pinned back in the third.
The unit that didn't show up so much was the Zajac unit. Travis Zajac had a good shorthanded opportunity, but that was blocked. He was held to one shot on net tonight. It wasn't like he was invisible but he didn't contribute much. Kyle Palmieri's biggest contribution was one power play shot in the first period and getting fouled twice. The first penalty he drew did result in a PPG, at least. The other could have been advantageous in overtime before the team botched it. Sergey Kalinin got held by Greg Pateryn and that was it for his contributions. They spent a lot of time in their own end and didn't get much going forward. Even that second penalty drawn by Palmieri was in New Jersey's end of the rink. So when they don't add much to the game, it undercuts the overall effort.
The Debut of Kennedy: Tyler Kennedy was signed today and Jiri Tlusty was put on injured reserve to make room for him on the overall roster. Stefan Matteau was scratched so he could dress. Kennedy was, well, a fourth line winger tonight. He played less than seven minutes, got one shot on net, and didn't get blown up in the run of play. I know he's been largely inactive since preseason. Like Patrik Elias, he likely has rust to play off before he gets into form. I suppose we'll see more of him in coming days to do just that.
Elias Got an Assist: Patrik Elias got a secondary assist on Stempniak's power play goal. The secondary assist was a legitimate assist, as he passed it down low to Cammalleri - who then slid it across to Stempniak. Elias played more tonight with 16:38 of ice time, including shifts on the power play and penalty kill. He looked better tonight with Jacob Josefson and Jordin Tootoo, who both benefited in some cases with #26 keeping the attack going. This is an encouraging sign. If the third line can produce, then it would be even better for the Devils overall.
What Was Dominant? Oh, These Guys: Montreal's top line did not score. They came oh-so-close in the first period, but Schneider robbed Plekanec in a 2-on-1 situation. The unit of Plekanec, Max Pacioretty, and Devante Smith-Pelly made many attempts, much more than they allowed, and generated ten of Montreal's 27 shots on net tonight. They were often joined by Montreal's top defensive pairing of Subban and Markov. These two are among the best defensemen pairings in the league and the third period tonight was a demonstration as to why. Subban was so smooth on the puck, whether it was to start a breakout or keep an attack going. Markov was similarly smooth in control. Both just ate up clearing attempts, which led to several long shifts in New Jersey's end of the rink. When they were forced to go back in their own end, they were able to get stops, clean up loose pucks, and get an outlet pass quickly for the visitors to start going back.
I was very impressed with their play as much as they made me nervous that they would score in the third period to tie it up. Two of them did create the equalizing opportunity. Markov won a puck behind the net, sending it to Pacioretty in the corner. Pacioretty looked up, saw Alex Galchenyuk with acres of space in front of him. Adam Larsson was just inside the left circle and Andy Greene was out wide to the right. Pacioretty placed a great pass for Galchenyuk to take it, go, and score. Thankfully, due to Schneider and some luck, that would be it for how much damage they would do.
Oh, Eric: This was not a highlight-reel worthy game for Gelinas. In general, he and Jon Merrill didn't get picked on too much. They didn't face the wrath of Montreal's top line too often. Yet, the 7-44 pairing yielded the first goal against. An odd pass back by Gelinas forced Merrill to put it up the boards under pressure. Lars Eller took that and had the opening for a 2-on-1 that Andrighetto converted. Schneider perhaps should have stopped the shot, but it was a bad broken play for those two. Gelinas was limited to less than two minutes of ice time in the third period. He was used once in overtime. A bad pass to Palmieri led to Gelinas deciding to step in to keep the puck in play even though Plekanec was in a spot to knock it past him and go. Plekanec knocked it past him and went forward. Gelinas didn't foul him hard or all that effectively, but he attempted to impede the forward and that was called - wiping out the power play in OT. With only one really good shot - that Stempniak deflected in front - the usage is very telling. When David Schlemko is available - he won't be for tomorrow - I think Gelinas sits. Unfortunately, I cannot say he has made a very good case when he his most notable moments in games were moments like these.
The Shootout: This was an odd one. Galchenyuk scored on a backhand that went off the crossbar, Schneider's body, and in. Then Montreal took three odd attempts. David Desharnais went for a slapshot in the slot that fooled no one. Pacioretty missed as he cut hard to Schneider's right. Eller did a similar move, only Schneider stopped it. Alas, Andrighetto finished it. The opportunity was there for New Jersey to take it in the middle as the Canadiens wasted their chance. Cammalleri couldn't get it under Condon's arm. Jacob Josefson pulled out a different move that beat Condon to the goalie's left. Stempniak beat Condon but not the iron. Henrique was stopped going to Condon's left. Patrik Elias was given the chance to equalize, but he couldn't lift it up and over Condon's right pad. Oh, well. It's been a while since New Jersey was in a shootout so I can't really say whether they should have gone for anyone else. Maybe a different order would have helped? I don't know. At least Josefson remains a contributor.
On Cory: Schneider is really very good. I don't think it warrants false modesty to say that when he gloriously robs a Desharnais or a Plekanec. He wasn't perfect, but a 2-on-1 GA and a breakaway goal against aren't exactly the worst to concede - even if I think he had a fair chance at Andrighetto's goal. He was a big reason why the Devils got a point tonight and he did what he could in the shootout. Cory gets results. I think he should get tomorrow off, but we'll see.
One Last Thought: All the goals scored in this game counted. There was no intervention by the linesmen for a change.
Your Take: The Devils lost in a shootout tonight. I'm fine with a point, but what's your reaction? Do you think the Devils should have pulled a win out of this one? What could they have done differently in the third period? What should New Jersey adjust ahead of a rematch in Montreal tomorrow night? Who impressed you and who were you disappointed by tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread, who followed @AATJerseyBlog on Twitter during the game, and you for reading. Brian will have a preview for tomorrow's game.