I know the New Jersey Devils are not a good team. I know the Montreal Canadiens are a very good team. I know that very good teams tend to beat teams that are not good in a variety of ways. That doesn’t make witnessing what happened at the Rock feel any better. Tonight, the Devils hosted their first ever Pride Night. They provided the all-too-familiar feeling of dropping leads and ultimately losing the game on said night. This one came in overtime, 3-4 to Montreal, resulting in a point that doesn’t help the Devils at all in the standings.
The first period featured a sluggish Devils squad who had issues with the concept of “forward” with the puck with a myriad of bad passes, bad bounces, and playing into a well-structured Montreal squad. It wasn’t all bad, though. The Devils kept Montreal from generating too much on offense themselves, so it wasn’t a one-way game. It was just a sloppy one. The Devils did strike first within the final minute of the period. Travis Zajac found Kyle Palmieri in the slot; Palmieri powers through Andrei Markov and snapped a shot past Al Montoya to make it 1-0. It was a difficult to watch period, but the Devils came out ahead.
The second period featured a Devils team that had more control in the run of play. Despite Cory Schneider robbing Andrew Shaw early in the period from the crease, the Devils carried most of the attack. They had a power play that didn’t have a lot of dangerous shots, but kept firing away at Montoya to keep offensive pressure up. Upon taking the puck into New Jersey’s end, the Canadiens looked more like the Devils from the first period. Their lost pucks weren’t always handled the best by the Devils, but they pushed Montreal back and forced Montoya to be quite good. It was a scoreless period, but the Devils played it well against a loaded team. It was appreciable.
Then came a third period where the Devils’ efforts would be both rewarded and punished - leaving me and presumably many other fans rather frustrated. An early attacking shift resulted in John Moore firing a slap shot from the center point. It got through traffic, the puck stayed low, and it beat Montoya to make it 2-0. Exactly what the Devils needed: a larger lead. It lasted all of eleven seconds. Alexander Radulov batted down a pass to get past Travis Zajac at the blue line and used the space in the high slot to rip a wrister past Cory Schneider. It was 2-1 and a sense of dread emerged.
Minutes later in the third, Blake Coleman (not Miles Wood) took a Montreal turnover at their blueline, drove to the net like he was Rick Nash, drew a hook from Philip Danault, and crashed into Montoya. Seconds into the power play, Palmieri took a long shot, it got through to Montoya, and Zajac impressively got to the rebound and put it around the goalie for the score. Once again: a two-goal lead. And once again, Montreal answers back on the very next shift. Nathan Beaulieu fires a shot from the right point, Schneider isn’t able to snag it, the puck eludes Steve Santini, and Max Pacioretty netted his thirtieth goal on the rebound. To have a two goal lead disappear so fast once in a game is bad. Twice is astonishing.
The game played on and the action certainly picked up. Andrew Shaw was robbed. Michael Cammalleri set up Stefan Noesen in the slot for a shot Montoya robbed. The play was going back and forth. Montreal was starting to rack up more shots, but it wasn’t as if the Devils turned into welcome mats for the Canadiens. No, they were cleaning up the messes, making reads to get out of trouble, and keep Montreal more than honest on defense. This was a Devils team that was playing with pride, appropriately so on Pride Night. Nuts to the draft, the Devils could hang with Montreal and strive for the win. It’s what I wanted - like against Our Hated Rivals - I wanted the Devils to succeed on this night. Al Montoya was pulled. After a puck went out of play, the Devils ice the puck only for Taylor Hall to skate like a bat out of hell to negate the icing. The effort was there. The jaws were full of victory.
And it all fell apart seconds later. After a failed zone exit, Montreal changed the point of attack and Pacioretty just winged a shot from outside of the left circle. Amid Radulov, Shaw, and Ben Lovejoy, the puck trickled past Schneider and crossed the line before Andy Greene could clear it. I’ve watched the replay; the shot just went past the three bodies, hit the jersey of Schneider’s right, and the puck just drifted in. It was a heartbreaker. It was the sort of play where you can only just throw your head back, look at the ceiling, and wonder what went wrong for this to happen.
In overtime, the teams traded chances but was ultimately decided by a penalty. I thought for sure it would be a tripping minor on Taylor Hall as Hall went for a puck at the skates of, I think, Danault. Instead, it was a hooking minor on Severson against Nathan Beaulieu. Either way, the minor penalty resulted in a 3-on-4 situation and it spelled doom for the Devils. Alex Galchenyuk scored to make the Montreal fans happy and deflate the Devils fans further. On a night where the game was winnable, the performance improved over time (that first period was rough for both sides), and the team actually attacked fairly well, and this is the end result. Lax defending after scoring twice, an awful bounce within the final minute, and a killer penalty in overtime. All for a loss. The Devils seemingly found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and sent most of the fans home with another reminder that this team isn’t good. In a word: Phbbbbbbt.
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 NHL.com Shift Charts | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: A quick recap was written at Habs Eyes on the Prize by Namiko Hitotsubashi.
Eleven Forwards: The Devils started the game with twelve but ended up with eleven. Jacob Josefson played all of three shifts before leaving the game with an apparent injury. He did not return. That explains the jumbling of some of the lines; except for the unit of Hall, Zajac, and Palmieri. They stayed intact and that was the right call as they were New Jersey’s best line tonight. Out of the team’s 37 shots, the trio combined for twelve of them and that includes two goals. The threesome were the best in terms of shooting attempt differentials in 5-on-5 play except for Stefan Noesen, who was moved around a bit. The Zajac line’s numbers are more impressive considering they saw plenty of Andrei Markov and Shea Weber and won the matchup overall. Josefson leaving the game early led to plenty of mixing. While Noesen cam out well for it, the same can’t be said for Joseph Blandisi, Devante Smith-Pelly, Michael Cammalleri, and others. I hope Josefson will be OK, but with Pavel Zacha also on IR with a concussion, an already thin center core looks thinner at the moment.
The Enigma: Cammalleri continues to baffle me when I watch him this season. There are shifts where he’ll make good reads, smart decisions, and productive plays. Then there are shifts where he’s just not on the same page with his teammates. Like his tendency turn his way out of danger with the puck on defense. Or attempting lateral passes when his teammates are going forward expecting a shot and perhaps a rebound to jump on. Or going to the same spot as a player with the puck. I don’t know what to expect from shift to shift and I suspect the coaches may not either. That would explain why he was bouncing around among lines in past weeks as well as tonight. I can’t figure him out. To me, Cammalleri is an enigma. What do you make of him? I don’t know anymore.
The Wood Issue: Miles Wood wasn’t horrendous tonight. His shooting attempt differential in 5-on-5 play was not bad. He wasn’t torched on defense. I didn’t like his holding penalty. An offensive zone call in a one-goal game in the third period isn’t a good one. But what kills me about Wood is his usage. When he’s on the ice, it seems the Devils want to throw pucks away or attempt long passes more in the hopes that he’ll get to the puck first and do something with it. Wood’s speed can and should be an asset. And in time, he’ll get better at using his speed on the puck. But that’s the thing: having him chase down pucks risks icing calls, risks offside calls, and usually ends up with the other team having the puck. It’s high risk for occasional gain, none of which happened tonight. What’s worse is that the Devils haven’t been a good possession team all season; somehow the coaches want to get further away from that when #44 is on the ice. While he has plenty to work on, I think his skills can be better harnessed right now. Or at the very least, the team can stop shifting strategies for a rookie and that may pay dividends.
Coleman’s Return: Blake Coleman certainly played with a high energy level. He was more active than I initially thought. He had four shots on net plus drawing the hook from Danault that led to a PPG. In action, he was moving so fast to the net, I confused him with Wood. Coleman certainly played more than he had in the past with over 13 minutes of ice time. Josefson’s injury required everyone to play a bit more. He wasn’t a problem and that’s good enough. I suspect we’ll see a bit more of him for now.
The Back End: It’s easy to say that the defense stinks and they blew it. Overall, they weren’t awful. Again, Montreal struggled to get a whole lot going for two periods. That’s no small task given the players that they have and a smart coach, Claude Julien, telling them what to do. That said, the team’s focus just went away after each of their two third-period goals. Santini looked worse than maybe he was on video on Pacioretty’s first goal. Lovejoy being bodied among Shaw and Radulov on the third period equalizer wasn’t a good look, even if it may not have factored into the goal. Plus, Moore provided a goal instead of being burned on one against. It’s just that the sum of the parts isn’t good and it continues to be a problem. If any pairing was particularly problematic, I’d say it would be Greene-Lovejoy. They drew Radulov, Danault, and Pacioretty. While attempts were mostly even, shots favored Montreal and most of all, many of those shots came from Pacioretty. Montreal’s leading goal scorer had eight shots on net, including two goals; the Devils had little answer for him. But perhaps that is no surprise since it’s Max Pacioretty. It’s what he does. It’s his thing to fire a lot of shots and score goals. The D just couldn’t come together late.
And this makes looking at Cory Schneider (or Keith Kinkaid when he’s in net) harder. Is it the D putting him in bad spots? Or did Schneider just not play as well as we think? Yes, he made several difficult saves on Montreal. Still, was the Radulov goal stoppable? Was Pacioretty’s second goal stoppable? I’m not certain. I’d like to think Schneider would say they were. Whether he had a realistic chance, I’ll leave that for you to decide. It’s harsh, but it’s in the back end where these kinds of games have been lost and tonight was another example.
A Positive Note: I’ll leave this on a more positive note. I liked how the Devils did their Pride Night. I liked Dave at the You Can Play table. I liked the emphasis both during the pre-game and during the game. I liked that . But for the most part, people took to it well from what I’ve seen. Therefore, I’d like to see that the Devils make this an annual event as with other heritage and appreciation nights. I also hope that those who came out to this game that maybe otherwise wouldn’t go to a Devils game aren’t so put off by how the Devils lost this one that they wouldn’t return. But the game is what it is.
Your Take: While I’m unhappy about this 3-4 OT loss to Montreal, I want to know what you think. What was your reaction to the game as a whole? Who do you think played well and played poorly for New Jersey? Who or what should have been better tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thanks to Devin for previewing this game. Thank you for reading.