There is a close score result for this game. The New Jersey Devils lost to the Montreal Canadiens, 1-2. However, the performance between the two teams was much further apart. Montreal had their proverbial legs and never assumed their lead(s) were good enough to just sit back. They didn't get a lot of shots on net but they made plenty of attempts and ended up with more of both than New Jersey. The Devils' had their moments and it appeared they were pushing harder in the third period. Alas, working hard and playing smart aren't the same thing whereas Montreal did both and succeeded. In a sport where a stray deflection can make a difference in the score, it's remarkable how two teams can look so different in a one-goal game.
That stray deflection was how the Devils scored their lone goal of the night. At the beginning of the third period, Andy Greene had a seemingly rare moment tonight: he was in Montreal's zone. He attempted a shot, Adam Henrique touched it, and the puck went through a screen by Mike Sislo and Mike Condon. Fifty seconds in, Henrique got his first goal in a month. With 19:10 left on the clock, the scene was set for another third period comeback for New Jersey. It didn't happen. It's easy to see why. The Devils took a whopping four shots (out of fifteen attempts) on net since Henrique's touch got the Devils on the scoreboard. That's not very good even if the score was flipped. It's worse knowing that additional offense could have taken a point after two really crummy periods by New Jersey.
One of the reasons why the game went so awry at times was due to the defense. John Moore left the game early with an injury, reducing the blueline to Greene, Adam Larsson, Damon Severson, Eric Gelinas, and Jon Merrill. This wasn't a bad night at all for Gelinas or Merrill. Yet, Larsson and Greene suffered additional shifts and a whole lot of Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, and Tomas Plekanec. Montreal's top line topped New Jersey over and over. Going back to the D, dropping to five so early takes its toll. That extra fatigue likely contributed to the team's many less-than-smart decisions.
Of course, the fact that they made so many of those just hurt their cause. A great example would be the eventual game winning goal. It's a power play - which was an abject waste of time tonight - and Sergey Kalinin has the puck. Does Kalinin take the space in front of him? Does he move the puck towards the net? Does he even take a shot, hoping a man in white can pounce on a rebound? No, he passes it back to Damon Severson - and does so by putting him out of position. Paul Byron pounces on it for a 2-on-1. Severson compounds the bad situation by getting on his stomach, trying to knock the puck off Byron's stick. Byron avoids the unnecessary desparation move and then puts it forward for Torrey Mitchell for an easy re-direction that beats Schneider. The shorty held up for the win and it was the result of two bad decisions. As costly as they were, there many more less costly ones that just ended attacks, kept Montreal on offense, and so forth.
Ultimately, the game flow of this game at Natural Stat Trick in terms of attempts says a lot about how the game went. Was it bad that Travis Zajac missed so badly on a shorthanded breakaway that one thought he turned into Jay Pandolfo for the moment? Yes. But the telling point is that was one of the few open shots off the rush that the Devils even generated. That Corsi line graph went into Montreal's side and just stayed there. It meant that for whatever good shifts the Devils may have had in the second and third periods, Montreal matched that. That top line by Montreal had most of them and more of the dangerous chances. As that kept happening, all that does is expand the gap between New Jersey and Montreal despite what the score showed. The fast, attacking, supportive tonight certainly wasn't the team with that marketing campaign.
I'd like to think most teams would relish getting within one goal in the third period and try to attack as much as they can to tie it up. The 2015-16 Devils? After Monday's game, this one, and three straight months mostly-average records, I don't know.
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 HockeyStats.ca Advanced Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Jon Lioumbas has this short recap at Eyes on the Prize. He's pleased. He should be. Montreal played a very good game and earned this win.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, there's plenty here for the Montreal fans to like:
Out-ed: The Devils were out-shot 20-25. The Devils were out-attempted 48-57. The Devils were also out-chanced 10-17. Is it any wonder that I come away from this thinking they were out-played?
I will say that for a game that was solidly in Montreal's favor from a possession standpoint, no one really got heavily out-shot except for Adam Larsson. He had it the worst with a -13 attempt differential and a -9 in shot differential in all situations and . Focusing on even strength only, both drop to -9 and -7, respectively. Again, Larsson got plenty of Montreal's top line. Some of their bottom six lines had some good shifts too. Lastly, John Moore leaving the game early due to injury meant every defender had to be rotated and Larsson got plenty of minutes. Other than #5, no one got really wrecked from a shot-standpoint. However, no one really excelled either and in a close game, that's a problem.
Silver Lining?: Henrique getting a touch on Greene's shot for his first goal in a long time could be seen as one. Yet, Henrique got that deflection and then went back to being involved a lot without really making a significant positive or negative effort. Lee Stempniak is a slump and Sislo is Mike Sislo; but all that tells me is that Henrique may not the big difference maker at forward that some may think he is. Say what you want about Zajac's finishing ability but he can match up against very good players. And that's with a less-than-ideal-defensively Kyle Palmieri and Jiri Tlusty (both of whom were less-than-ideal offensively tonight). So I'm not really seeing #14 as anything silvery out of this one.
No, the real silver lining here is Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas. Merrill played twenty four minutes and Gelinas, coming into the lineup to replace a now-injured David Schlemko, played just over nineteen. Both were actually good. Both were attacking more often than not. Gelinas was the leading shot taker for New Jersey with three getting on frame and another three attempts. Merrill had one shot and two attempts blocked. The more impressive side is the defensive part. They didn't get run over. They handled the David Desharnais-led line well. They worked well with New Jersey's third/fourth line of Stephen Gionta, Jordin Tootoo, and Bobby Farnham. Merrill and Gelinas had nights that should convince the coaches that they should be regulars. With Schlemko and now Moore out, they'll have to be. Tonight should have earned some confidence in what they can do for the coaches, for the fans, and for themselves.
PHBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBT: The Devils' power play is a raspberry at this point. One shot on net over five minutes of a man advantage tonight. They conceded three shots, including a goal. The passing is bad, the decisions are bad, the zone entries are bad, and the personnel is especially bad. I know, I know. What can you expect from a five-man unit that includes Kalinin, Sislo, Tootoo, and Stefan Matteau? I expect to see a lot more of Henrique, Zajac, and Palmieri - and to have them do something, for one. For another, I expect some differences in tactics. Even if the message is just "Shoot it whenever you see the goalie," just do something different. The power play has been a waste of time at best in recent weeks and a net negative at worst. Like it was tonight.
If they want some inspiration, then why not get tonight's gametape and look at Montreal? Yes, the Devils don't have a Pacioretty, Plekanec, or P.K. Subban. Yet, notice on Pacioretty's power play goal how Montreal moved prior to it. They drew the Devils' penalty killers in and out of their formation to make a passing lane to the middle appear Notice how Brendan Gallagher, hardly a big man, just set himself in front of Cory Schneider. Notice how Subban and Plekanec didn't force the pass or wait too long on the puck. The play was crisp, it was an actual play, and it turned out right. The Devils' penalty killers held Montreal to only two other shots, but that's far better than what the Devils got tonight.
Help Schneider: Poor Cory Schneider. On the day he gets named to the 2016 All Star Game as New Jersey's lone representative, this is what he got in front of him. A goal against through a screen, a mess of a shorthanded goal allowed, and one goal out of twenty shots in response. Schneider played very well as usual, despite some adventures out of the net when trying to play the puck. He nearly gave Pacioretty a goal much earlier in the game. With a stray puck lingering in the middle, he made the right decision to come out and knock it away. The problem was that he either missed it or he knocked it into Pacioretty's legs. Fortunately for all (except Montreal), the puck went astray enough that Pacioretty didn't have an empty net for an easy score. Still, Schneider had no further adventures outside of the first period and only could watch as the Devils supported him with next to nothing that came too late. Schneider earned his All Star berth the hard way.
Some Questions: Kyle Palmieri, where were you? While positive in attempts, where the shots? Without Cammalleri, you need to be firing away - one shot out of five attempts isn't enough. Damon Severson of last season, where are you? There's a very good defenseman somewhere in you, but I don't know where he ran off to. Tuomo Ruutu, who were you? Taking needless tripping calls on offense and adding next to nothing when anything would be very welcomed. Takeaway the penalty and, what, he's Stefan Matteau? That helps nobody.
Rule 53.6: I believe that's the applicable rule for one of the stranger calls tonight. Jordin Tootoo fired a broken stick at David Desharnais. We saw this on Saturday when Alex Goligoski did it. Goligoski sat two minutes for interference. Desharnais was awarded a penalty shot. It was still odd to see live, but it was the right call. 53.6 means it's a penalty shot if a broken stick is fired at the puck carrier by a defending player. Goligoski was on offense, so no penalty shot was awarded then. Fortunately for all (except Montreal, again), Desharnais also turned into Pandolfo and missed on the free breakaway.
Looking Ahead: Detroit struggled since the Devils last played them and came away winners on Monday. Montreal has been struggling for the better part of the month and stunk last night, yet they play a very good game and won tonight. Boston won only one game since they beat New Jersey in a shootout a few weeks ago. I hope this isn't going to become a trend where the Devils get to play a drug-free Dr. Feelgood for other teams.
One Last Thought: I really, really miss Mike Cammalleri.
Your Take: The Devils may have fought hard by the end but Montreal played smarter and just as hard to prevail. Again, from my perspective, this was not as close as the score would suggest. What's your perspective? Who do you think played the best among Devils' skaters tonight? Who really had a poor night? What of Montreal, who on their team impressed you tonight? Why do the Devils perform like going forward and getting shots on net seems like squeezing blood from a stone? What do the Devils need to learn from this game before their Friday game against Boston? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
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