In the interest of fairness, I did not see this game. It was not available for legal video broadcast in New Jersey. NHL.tv would not provide video coverage because of blackouts, which make no sense. Therefore, I am relying on what I heard through the TSN 690 feed, which was available through NHL.tv. It is a shame because I understand this was quite a good game for the New Jersey Devils. They beat on the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 in a decisive fashion.
It is only preseason, so temper your expectations. But the team has now scored eleven goals in their first three games. Furthermore, the team put three past Punchin’ Carey Price, who went the whole way for Montreal. The first was within the first minute of the game. Blake Coleman won a faceoff cleanly back to Mirco Mueller. Mueller unloaded a shot that got through traffic and beat Price to make it 1-0. (Thanks to @DevilsInsiders for capturing video clips of the goals)
The second came at 15:30 into the second period when rookie and hopefully a budding sensation Nico Hischier re-directed a puck from Taylor Hall. The third score came from a defensive miscue by Montreal.
Joseph Blandisi waited at the goal line to draw two Canadiens players, made a pass behind the net to Stefan Noesen. While Noesen flailed on the shot, the puck slid to a wide-open Jesper Bratt - who slammed in a point-blank shot to make it 3-1 in the third. (Aside: Price’s goals against weren’t soft ones, but it’s nice that the pugilist was beaten thrice.) Bratt tacked on an empty net to juice the score and the excitement level for his future.
The clips are great - and show that the Devils had some good puck luck to beat Price. But what made this a decisive win from my understanding was how the Devils performed in general. They went out and out-shot and out-attempted the Canadiens right from the get-go. While the Devils took five straight penalties in the second period, they still managed to only be out-shot 10-14 and led them 6-3 in 5-on-5 play. In the third period, the Devils did not give up on the attack even after going up two goals. They forced Price to make some tough saves while limiting the Canadiens to just one shot on net in the final five minutes of the third period. Per the 5-on-5 heat map of shots at Natural Stat Trick, the Devils were able to get towards the front of the net for several of their 32 shots on net. Those all point to a very good performance. I can only name one bothersome thing about it; but I’ll get to that later.
It wasn’t a dominating performance. Montreal did have their moments of rolling on offense. They spent a lot of time on the power play in the second period. Keith Kinkaid was huge. From what I heard, you could make an argument that his glove was the best thing in the rink tonight. It seemingly snagged everything Kinkaid could get a look at. Kinkaid was only bested once by an Eric Gelinas shot for a power play goal. But all of the other stops including those for Brendan Gallagher (4), Alex Galchenyuk (3), and Jeff Petry (6) were made by #1. Kinkaid had a great night. And amazingly wasn’t even named one of the three stars of the game.
Those three stars were Will Butcher, Hischier, and Hall. And from what I can tell from the numbers and from what I heard, those are some fine choices. But several other Devils could have been named and it would have been fine. Mueller had another good game. Steve Santini and Brian Strait - both making their preseason debuts tonight - were a pairing that definitely looked good in the run of play. Even Dalton Prout - Dalton Prout! - played really well on defense. Up front, I think Hischier and Hall were good choices. But I wouldn’t sleep on some of the other forwards. Noesen and Blandisi had another great night. Bratt’s big third period will stick out for the two goals, but the coaches gave him plenty of power play and penalty killing situations to boost his icetime to over eighteen minutes. That speaks a lot of how they view the young man. He really could be the latest late-round gem for the Devils. Marcus Johansson was a little more active with three shots on net. Kyle Palmieri put up four shots of his own and even passed the puck around a bit. With a very good team performance there should be plenty of good performances from the players. That appeared to be the case tonight in Montreal.
I understand it is preseason. These results do not matter and these rosters are not going to be too close to what we’ll see in early October. However, the Devils players and coaches should come away feeling very good about most of what happened tonight. It’s another night of over 30 shots, it’s another 3-goals-against-a-goalie game, and it’s solid performance on the road. It is at least another reason to believe that this team may not be the doormats they were last season.
The Opposition Opinion: This is a “Top Six Minutes,” a kind of quick recap by Scott Matla at Habs Eyes on the Prize. A notable bullet:
What in the hell is a Jesper Bratt?
He is man with more goals than the entire Montreal Canadiens team tonight.
The Aspect of the Team That Did Not Go Well: The 5-on-5 play was very good. The penalty killing for the Devils, while they conceded a goal, did survive 5-on-3 situations and eight other shots in a little over eight minutes of the game. The Devils did not take a penalty in the third period either and cut down on their penalties to five by players and one by the bench. What is missing? The power play.
This was an issue against Washington and New York, where the Devils received many, many favorable man advantage situations but could not make the most of them. They scored just one power play goal. But they generated multiple shots then. Tonight, with five power plays and 8:41 of ice time while up at least one man, the Devils put five shots on Price. An average of a shot per situation is lacking. From the sound of it, the Devils struggled to get set-up into a formation to even get a good look at the net.
I understand that the Devils’ roster is a mix of actual New Jersey Devils, potential New Jersey Devils, Binghamton Devils, and prospects. I understand that Montreal may just be really good on the penalty kill. I understand it is preseason. I also understand the Devils may have not had the time to practice their power play with all of the games and travel. Still, it is now three games in a row where the power play was lackluster. From what I heard and seen through the shot counts, I suspect the tactics may be a part of the issue as opposed personnel. As much as I would like to see power play goals, I’ll take more effective and threatening power plays first. They tend to lead to goals.
Who Seemingly Did Not Do Well: So many Devils had good games. Who didn’t? John Quenneville was quiet again. No shots on net, he missed the net twice, nothing stood out with respect to his CF% (it was not bad, it was not good, it was exactly 50%), and one holding penalty. He did play a bit more tonight; fifteen plus minutes of ice time in total. But I’m becoming a little more concerned about his hopes of making the squad right away. Nathan Bastian made his NHL preseason debut. Unlike Quenneville, he did register a shot on net and had two others blocked. However, he was limited to less than twelve minutes of ice time and was one of the few Devils who did not finish at or above 50% CF% tonight. At least Butcher and Michael Kapla faced several of Montreal’s better players to help explain their lower CF%. Bastian, not so much.
What Happened to Blake Coleman?: If there is a potential loss in tonight’s game, then it could be with Blake Coleman. He only played five shifts for a total of 2:30 tonight. That may explain some of the bumps in ice time for Bratt, Quenneville, and so forth. I have not seen whether he left the game due to an injury or what. It’s a shame because Coleman has looked good so far in this preseason. When he has played, he was used quite a lot on the penalty kill. For his sake, I hope he is OK.
Get More Nico Hype: Hischier not only drew another penalty (the first of the game, a hook from Gelinas), but he managed to do two things that should warrant more hype for a young man who could very well live up to it. First, his goal showed that he really is not at all shy about physical contact. I would not call Hischier small, but he certainly is not big. Yet, he has shown no fear getting into the “dirty” areas of the ice and getting in someone’s space to win a puck or make a play. Tonight, he posted up Jakub Jerabek at the right post for a tip-in. Hischier used his body to stay in front and, this is key, not force Jerabek into Price. Another player may have tried to force the defender back or perhaps not get that close at all. Hischier showed no fear and he was rewarded. Second, Hischier was moved up in the lineup to play with Hall and Palmieri. While I would not say Johansson has been bad; I would say he really has not done a whole lot to take that open #1 center spot for himself. Hischier has played his way up and his time with Palmieri and Hall in 5-on-5 hockey nearly surpassed his initial linemates, Noesen and Bratt. At this rate, I would not be surprised if we saw Hischier start with Hall and Palmieri in a regular season game - and maybe in a preseason game. The young man appears to have the proverbial goods.
The Emphasis on Penalties: Despite a total of eleven called, the emphasis was not in play. There were no faceoff violations tonight. The only bench minor called was when a Devils coach argued after a presumably awful goaltender interference call on Kevin Rooney during a penalty kill. The refs gave the bench another two minutes for those verbals in the second period. (Aside: Since Montreal took all three penalties called in the third, was that an attempt at a make up for that call? Especially since the hook by Jerabek on Noesen was very ticky-tacky? Your guess is as good as mine.) As far as slashing, there was a call on each side. Johansson slashed Andreas Martinsen in the second period, seconds before Rooney’s minor and the subsequent raging by the Devils staff. Paul Byron slashed Brian Strait in the third period for that one.
Cuts?: According to Chris Ryan at NJ.com, John Hynes stated after the game that the next set of cuts would be after the split-squad game next Monday. That makes sense since the Devils need to have two rosters playing that night.
One Last Thought: As I was listening to the TSN 690 audio broadcast during the second intermission, I heard one of the commentators discuss Eric Gelinas. After receiving praise for his heavy shot leading to a goal, one of the commentators ewxplained that his shot would not be good enough. With Shea Weber on the team, he’s going to receive loads of power play time. Furthermore, the Canadiens can ill afford to just have a specialist on the roster. To make this team, the conclusion was that Gelinas will have to bring more to the table. Montreal, I’m afraid I have some bad news about that. Although I think Claude Julien may have figured that out.
Your Take: Maybe you saw this game in some way. Maybe you also heard about it. Maybe you just followed along with NHL.com or social media or the comments in this very site’s gamethread. No matter how you did it, what did you think of the Devils’ performance tonight? Who impressed you the most? Who was disappointing? What can the Devils do about their power play beyond practicing and deciding on their personnel? What can the Devils do to prepare for Saturday’s game given the events of tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along on Twitter with @AATJerseyBlog and in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.