Tonight, the New Jersey Devils lost to the Montreal Canadiens in overtime, 1-2. The overtime goal was a stinker by the skaters. After Sami Vatenen lost the puck in the neutral zone, Pavel Zacha made a good decision to pin Charlie Hudon against the boards. The puck was freed up and Zacha had the body. Vatenen came in to help and somehow missed the puck and Hudon’s stick. Blake Coleman also came over to help and did not contribute. Hudon managed to poke the puck out to the wide-open middle of the zone. Tomas Plekanec took that gift and fired the game-winning goal past Cory Schneider to give Montreal a win and to have the Devils leave with just a point. The play does not reflect well on Vatanen or Coleman - seriously, either win the puck or let Zacha handle Hudon and protect the space - and it was a poor way to lose it in OT. I must say that upfront.
That said, in the larger picture, this was not a bad point for the Devils to pick up. And not just because they survived a third period where they were out-attempted 14-29 and out-shot 6-13 in 5-on-5 play. Consider the larger picture. Without a shadow of a doubt, the Devils’ best skater has been Taylor Hall. He did not play tonight as he is recovering from a contusion in his knee. Marcus Johansson has been a top-six mainstay when he has been available. Johansson was not available tonight; he is still out with a bruised ankle. The team’s top right winger is Kyle Palmieri. He has been absent for a while and even though he is skating, he is not yet ready to play. Those are three pretty big losses at forward and with little to replace them. And when Hall is not having a good game, the offense tends to be a lot less threatening. If that’s enough, consider that Carey Price has been in net for Montreal. Yes, his overall save percentage has been uncharacteristically low this season, but he had more of a puncher’s chance tonight as he has been playing more like himself. Price played a lot like the player who earned his big, fat contract tonight. Throw in the fact that it’s on the road, the team weathered a lot of pressure in the third period, and there’s another game to consider for tomorrow, then getting a point tonight should be seen as a positive.
Consider these aspects of the performance. The offense dried up in the third period as Montreal’s defense seemingly swarmed it up anytime the Devils had the puck in their half of the rink. Yet, the Devils still put up over thirty shots on net, they were only out-shot in total by four (32-36), and while they did a lot of chasing in the third period, they did not look like a team that was overmatched. Cory Schneider played a great game and Price had to be great in his end too. There were some positive, hard working performances from Zacha, Steve Santini, Andy Greene, Damon Severson, Nico Hischier, and Brian Gibbons among others. It was good to see Stefan Noesen stay hot with a five-game point streak on a lovely goal that opened the game. There were good things for New Jersey in this game and that they were able to compete as they did without their best skater and two solid hands (or at least better than Drew Stafford).
Other than what happened in overtime, if there’s an aspect of this game the Devils that they should rue, then it is their power play. The Devils had three power plays in the second period: two five-on-four situations that lasted 3:50 in total and a five-on-three for 1:05. The five-on-three was quite poor. No shots on net! How do you get no shots on net with a two-man advantage? The five-on-four play was better if only because there were five shots on net. There was some actual productive puck movement there. Still, those were huge opportunities to break the deadlock. They did not answer them and given how Montreal brought the house to New Jersey in the third, their failures were regrettable. Not that the Devils’ power play has been remarkably effective recently, but Hall, Johansson, and/or Palmieri were missed here as well.
The overtime losing play was a bad one for New Jersey. Overtime as a whole was not so hot either. And the final regulation period was not a good one. Given the circumstances, the Devils still got something out of this game and they weren’t completely run over and were fortunate to get it. I choose to see that as a positive. Now we have to see what the Devils have left in the tank for Friday night.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Habs Eyes on the Prize for the opposition opinion to this game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Penalty Killing Strength: One aspect of the game that went very right for the Devils tonight was their penalty kill. The penalty killers were very strong by limiting Montreal to no shots on net on the power play and creating three of their own. The best of which was Nico Hischier poke-checking a pass away and then darting ahead for a one-on-one on Price. Per Natural Stat Trick, Montreal’s 5-on-4 power play units did have eight shooting attempts. They did not get to Schneider. Some of that was fortunate, but it is also a credit to the PK units in terms of providing pressure and not giving up a lot of space for the Canadiens to fire away. Good job.
The Blake Coleman Game: Blake Coleman hit the post in the second period tonight. Blake Coleman showed some great hustle. Blake Coleman put up three shots out of seven attempts tonight. Blake Coleman was rolled over in the run of play with an attempt differential of -6 (12-18) and a shot differential of -6 (4-10). Blake Coleman took two penalties tonight. Blake Coleman’s second penalty, a tripping call, came while he was going down for a block against a shot during a lengthy Montreal attack that started from Coleman losing the puck in the neutral zone. Blake Coleman came over to help in overtime when it wasn’t really needed and he didn’t provide it and so the team was burnt on it.
This was an eventful night for Coleman. That is not to say he was good; just that he was involved a lot.
Defensive Issues: The Andy Greene and Steve Santini pairing had a good game. They saw plenty of Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk, Phillip Danault, Andrew Shaw, and Max Pacioretty. Montreal did not heavily out-shoot or shoot much at all when these players were on the ice in those 5-on-5 matchups. Given that those players make up the bulk of Montreal’s attack, that’s a heartening thing to see.
On the flipside, Sami Vatanen has entered the John Moore Zone. It’s a zone filled with shots against, shots against, and more shots against. Vatanen and Moore were absolutely peppered in 5-on-5 play as the Devils conceded 15 shots when Vatanen was on the ice and 17 shots when Moore was on the ice. When Montreal had Galchenyuk, Shaw, Drouin, or Brendan Gallagher on the ice against those two, Montreal had a ball against this pairing. Just loads of shots against them. Plus a goal: Shaw scored Montreal’s lone goal in regulation off a deflection of a shot by Jordie Benn. It was a deflection but the pressure against them was real. Throw in a high-sticking penalty for Moore plus Vatanen not helping Zacha at all in overtime and it’s fair to say this was a bad pairing tonight.
In the middle was the third pairing of Damon Severson and Will Butcher. I liked what I saw from this pairing. Butcher was not getting dominated physically and Severson was fairly smart on the puck this evening. While the pairing was out-attempted, the shots in 5-on-5 when either were on the ice was fairly even. It is true they did not see a lot of Montreal’s top players like the other pairings, but they did well against Gallagher, Plekanec, and Montreal’s depth players.
In terms of an overall issue, that third period was just all kinds of difficult to watch at times. Montreal was storming the blueline, they were keeping New Jersey pinned back, and the Devils resorted to long clearances or icings just for relief. Especially in the final four minutes of the game. The attempts just spiked for Montreal as the Devils could not hit back. To that end, getting to overtime was a small victory since it looked like Montreal was going to get that one crazy bounce or that one killer play. They actually did. Only for Jeff Petry to not see the incisive pass across the top of the crease to him on Schneider’s flank late in the third. There was plenty of scrambling and not enough to keep Montreal at least honest. A source of that were the team’s real issues on defense.
For Lack of a Better Term, Smart Physicality: Credit Montreal for that strong third period performance. Not only did they keep coming at the Devils in waves, they were excellent in the neutral zone and in their end. Even when a puck took a weird bounce in favor of New Jersey or a Devil won or stole the puck, the Canadiens defenders acted quickly to minimize the threat. There were plenty of Canadiens bodying up Devils without being overly aggressive or taking themselves out of the play. The hits often separated the Devils from the puck or forced a not so dangerous move like a dump-in. When the Devils had space, they filled up shooting lanes quickly. This led to some easier shots for Price, particularly in that third period. It was similar to some of Boston’s performances against New Jersey under Claude Julien. It stands to reason that carried with him to Montreal.
We Have a Trade to Announce! Really?: Shortly after the Devils lost, the Devils announced a minor league trade.
This is the second such trade with Arizona this season (Scott Wedgewood was a minor leaguer in New Jersey at least). Ryan Kujawinski has not done much in the organization from a will-he-play-in-NJ perspective. Latta has been a role player with Washington in the past and has played in 113 NHL games. He has not been in the NHL since 2015-16, though. Insert your “Whole Latta Nothing” jokes here. More seriously, perhaps this helps Binghamton out. They’ve been struggling based on what I’ve seen of Jeff’s recaps (like this last one) and the team could use some strengthening up front. I defer to Jeff for any Binghamton opinions, which you can see in our Binghamton Devils section.
Hustle: Pavel Zacha did the right thing in OT and he worked hard all game long. He showed plenty of hustle, he actually started the breakout that led to Noesen’s goal, and he was active at shooting the puck with two shots out of five attempts. Zacha was previously benched presumably due to his effort on the ice. He clearly showed it here in Montreal. If the coaches are not satisfied with that, then I do not know what they want.
The Call Up: With Hall, Palmieri, and Johansson out, the Devils made their first call-up of a skater this season. And unlike Wedgewood, this call-up was the first to get into a game this season. Nick Lappin filled in a gap on the right side and skated mostly with Jimmy Hayes and Brian Boyle. Lappin did not cause too many issues and he put up two shots in ten minutes. He was perfectly acceptable as a fill-in tonight.
Goalie Duel: In some perspectives, this was a goaltender’s duel and a good one at that. Carey Price came to play and he absorbed a lot of shots. Noesen’s top-shelf shot was incredibly well placed and it was going to take something like that to beat Price again. While they hit the post twice, the Devils did not find it. Cory Schneider was great with a performance I hope the fans remember. He stopped thirty-four out of thirty-six, he denied two-on-ones and shots with tips and screens, and he was solid at holding onto pucks. Those who want Schneider to “steal some games” for New Jersey got to see such a performance. But the other Devils did not complete the stealing process. He did his job very well tonight.
In principle, I would be opposed to Schneider playing back-to-back. But with Kinkaid’s statistical struggles, I would not be totally opposed to it. We’ll see soon enough.
One Last Thought: Noesen’s goal was not just beautiful, it came during a delayed penalty on Montreal. I do not know if it is true, but I think that is the first goal during a delayed penalty for New Jersey this season.
Your Take: The Devils lost 1-2 in overtime to Montreal. They cannot dwell on it for too long; they will play Dallas on Friday night to start a six-game home stand for the holidays. I want to know what you thought of the game, though. What did you think of the Devils’ performance? Who was good and bad in your eyes tonight? What should the Devils learn from this game and apply to their next game, which is Friday night against Dallas? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this overtime loss in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.