Goaltender Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens may be known for throwing a punch in a game and getting away with it. Tonight, it was Price who took a beating by the New Jersey Devils. On Thanksgiving Eve, the Devils lit him up for five goals as the Devils beat Montreal 5-2. What’s more is that the Devils earned each of those five goals scored. This was very much a rout given that the third period was all consolation hockey for the visitors. This was a victory built on a performance through the first forty minutes so good that the final twenty minutes did not matter much.
The first ten minutes of the game was somewhat even. The Devils gave the Canadiens fits with some forechecking, and Montreal took advantage of some sloppy defending by New Jersey. A great forecheck by Blake Coleman led to a pass to no one across the slot. But Andy Greene took the puck off the boards, took a shot, and Kyle Palmieri tipped it in to make it 1-0. On the very next shift, Jonathan Drouin gained the zone, got a step on Greene, and fired a laser above Keith Kinkaid’s left shoulder to make it 1-1. Again: it was even.
Then as time went on, the Devils were sharper on their backcheck while continuing to put plenty of offensive pressure on Montreal. Montreal’s attempts started missing more and getting blocked more. The Devils’ attempts became more dangerous. It would the Devils who broke the dead lock when Taylor Hall hooked up Nico Hischier - his first game since being injured in Winnipeg earlier this month - for a one-timer in front that made it 2-1. It was a good first period that, in retrospect, became a harbinger of things to come.
The Devils’ performance in the second period was one of the better periods of the entire season so far. Montreal had all of three chances to score all period. One hit a post before they lost a jam play in front; one was a shot on Kinkaid’s right flank that was flubbed before they lost a jam play in front; and one was a close shot that Kinkaid denied with his pads and the puck rebounded away before Montreal could lose a jam play in front. That was it. That was their threat. It was minuscule in comparison to what the Devils did to the Canadiens. To put it simply and nicely, they carved up their defense like it was a turkey.
The Devils had an awesome shift that ended with a too many men on the ice call. The Devils killed it easily and went right back on the attack. Then there was more of an attack. Then came this wonderful play:
A great zone entry and individual effort by Hischier led to Marcus Johansson getting the puck. A great cross-slot pass by Johansson through a seam led to Egor Yakovlev getting the puck on Price’s right flank. Yakovlev saw Price getting over faster than thought and saw Hall open in the slot (thanks in part to Jeff Petry’s non-defense). Pass to Hall, shot, score. The game was 3-1. The storm would continue.
The Devils would continue to force Price to make some rather difficult stops as they spent shifts on offense. The Devils would strike again and it came from the suddenly hot stick of Pavel Zacha. Seriously, he now has a goal scoring streak of three games. Jesper Bratt led a counter-attack rush up ice that faltered when Mirco Mueller lost the puck as a trailing attack. That’s OK. Bratt collected the puck, put on some moves, and Johansson at the bottom of the left circle. Johansson tried to get a pass across to an open Zacha on Price’s right flank. The pass wasn’t perfect, Zacha tried to shovel a backhander - which only popped the puck up. But then Zacha batted it in mid-air into the net. 4-1 and it was going to get worse before it would get better for Montreal.
About two minutes later, Tomas Tatar - who played tonight, I assure you - closed his hand on the puck. The Devils’ first shot on the power play was a one-timer by Hall that forced a quick slide to Price’s right and a big pad save. He would be beaten though. Damon Severson saw that the Canadiens defense was wide and made a forward pass to Zacha. Zacha took the puck in, got behind the defense, and fired a shot that trickled through Price’s right arm and into the net. A second goal by Zacha (!!!); a total soft one that effectively knocked out the Canadiens. 5-1 and at this point the game was effectively over. Montreal’s aforementioned scoring chances happened at 4-1 (the first one) and 5-1 (the other two). There was another Montreal power play and the Devils killed it like they were swatting a very slow and ineffective fly.
By the end of the second period, the Devils were leading 5-1. They were also out-attempting Montreal 34-26, out-shooting them 17-12, and out-chancing them 19-9. This was not just the Devils running up a score; this was the output of effective play in all three zones. While the game was somewhat free-flowing through the neutral zone, but the Devils were the ones winning the lion’s share of entries and finding spaces and seams for players off the puck to get into and “surprise” the Canadiens. While the Canadiens had two power plays to the Devils’ one, the Devils limited Montreal very well and ensured that the Canadiens could not build upon a final attack while their power plays were ending. After seeing the Devils put in two very good on-ice performances but not get the goals needed to win against Detroit and Carolina, it was fantastic to see them finish several plays, hang five on a pugilistic goaltender, and come close to making it six.
The third period was effectively garbage time. Montreal caught up in attempts, shots, and scoring chances (not high-danger, though), so the overall view of the game from a CF%, SF% and SCF% perspective is not reflective of how the game went. Montreal did push for a consolation goal. A Michael Chaput goal was waved off for incidental contact with Kinkaid that was borderline. A well-designed 3-on-2 rush gave Max Domi - who also played tonight - a goal through a screen to make it 5-2. Drouin broke away off a bank pass and hit iron minutes later. A goal there could have made the game unfortunately interesting for the visitors. Instead, the Devils closed things down and cruised to a big win on home ice.
And note that four of the five goals were created or scored by the first line of Hischier, Hall, and Palmieri and the second line of Bratt, Johansson, and Zacha. The only non-top six players that got points tonight were secondary assists for Coleman (Palmieri tipped in Greene’s shot) and Brett Seney (second power play unit). Even taking into account how Montreal racked up attempts and shots in the third period, Johansson, Zacha, Hischier, and Bratt were still above 55% CF% and only Palmieri just dipped below 50%. That’s how much they created for the Devils on offense tonight beyond just the goals. The performance of these two lines and even when the lines co-mingled was a big reason why Montreal was pinned back so often in the second period and why the Devils earned this huge win. The top six was, well, tops tonight. They led the Devils to sock it to the Canadiens. Ice up, Price.
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 Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Habs Eyes on the Prize does their full recaps on the following morning, so this is a link to their shorter, quicker recap called Top Six Minutes. This one is by Andrea. Just Andrea. She noted that Price was mad at Jordie Benn at a point in the second period. I hope for Benn’s sake he was not ordered a knuckle sandwich from artisan fight-artist Punchin’ Carey Price.
The Game Highlights: Oh, these are some highlights to enjoy. From the NHL.com, here are the clips with plenty to re-live:
A Great Night and Hopefully a Sign for the Future: Pavel Zacha had two goals tonight and was named the First Star of the Game! Marcus Johansson had two assists, both legitimate assists that created goals! Jesper Bratt only had the one secondary assist but that was also crucial in setting up Zacha’s first goal. This was great for tonight’s game and I’m hoping there is more to come.
While Bratt has been productive since returning to the rink, Johansson and Zacha were very cold in the scoring department up until recent games. A big reason for that was that hardly anyone was scoring when they took a 5-on-5 shift. As per Natural Stat Trick prior to tonight’s game, the team shot at 4.93% when Johansson was on the ice in 5-on-5 and the team shot at 5.43% when Zacha was on the ice. It’s hard to get points when the work being put in does not yield goals from many people. (Aside: These weren’t the lowest on the team, Miles Wood, Stefan Noesen, and Brett Seney have worse ones. Incidentally, they do not play very much.) I’m hoping that a night like tonight can happen more often and the points will come from them.
While Johansson was more active at shooting the puck tonight with three shots out of five attempts, that his passes led to scores was encouraging. Earlier in this season, Zacha would have failed to bat in his backhand attempt on Price and likely would have been stopped easily on his breakaway try. Seeing both become goals is not just great for Zacha personally but they should also encourage him to keep getting into good places and to take attempts. He did so tonight with four shots on goal out of six attempts, by the way. I’ll agree that Bratt has been a catalyst to help these two play better, but I’m hoping we’re now seeing some “puck luck” turn more in the favors of Zacha and Johansson.
Welcome Back, Nico: The Devils were not totally lost without Nico Hischier in the lineup in the past four games. Travis Zajac made due and did a fine job in between Hall and Palmieri. However, tonight showed to me that Hischier really needs to be the one between those two. He was just excellent on and off the puck. He took on defenders and won some one-on-one moves. He posted up, took some hits, and still managed to make plays and get into good spaces. He made good reads and took good shots. Nico Hischier was great tonight, as was the top line as a whole. Keep 9-13-21 going!
A Likeable Defense: I really liked what I saw out of the blueline tonight. Yes, Montreal got free a few times in the third period and there were some miscues. Overall, though, I thought Damon Severson had a great game in both ends of the rink. I thought Ben Lovejoy had an effective game, particularly on the penalty kill. Will Butcher was solid.
I also was more impressed with Egor Yakovlev than I have been before. While the pass to Hall was a great decision, Yakovlev was active with his stick, he stayed in motion and hardly got caught out of step, and he did not need to and did not get called for any penalties. It was a solid performance from the right-sided defenseman. Steve Santini is in Binghamton on a conditioning assignment; I do not think he’ll be given a spot right away if Yakovlev continues have nights like tonight. Yakovlev’s performance tonight also convinced me that he almost always belongs in the lineup over Eric Gryba.
Good Enough: Keith Kinkaid did make some strong saves tonight. He also had some post-help and was beaten on one shot he did see. But he was good enough in the crease for the Devils tonight. He did not stand on his head or do amazing things for sixty minutes. He put in a good night’s work and the Devils skaters gave him a huge cushion to work with such that Kinkaid could have been a lot worse and the Devils would have still picked up a win. That was good.
Near Perfect Special Teams: The Devils’ penalty kill yielded two shots against and took two shots themselves. The PK was great. In particular, their penalty kill for a hooking call on Travis Zajac gave up one opportunity and then impressively shut down the Canadiens for the remainder of the two minutes. The Devils had one power play, whereupon they created good shots, forced two good saves from Price, and Zacha beat Price on a shot Price should have stopped. 1-for-1 is not just a phrase that will make an Edmonton fan’s eyes twitch, it was the amount of PP success by New Jersey. So much of tonight’s game was in 5-on-5 situations, but the Devils won the near-six minutes of special teams tonight and it contributed to the win overall.
This is a Lot of Words to Say the Win was Excellent: Yes, it is! I’m not saying it was not perfect. I would have liked a less Montreal-heavy third period, but it does not bother me much because, hey, the Devils were up by 3+ goals. The Devils did more than enough to secure the victory.
Did Punchin’ Carey Price Punch Anyone?: Not that I could tell, but he did shove Hall for being too close to him after he held onto a puck.
An Injury: Joey Anderson left tonight’s game early in the first period. He played 1:44 over three shifts and that was it. I would think this, plus match-ups, contributed to some of the double-shifting of Hall and shifts where the line was Hall, Zajac, and Coleman. There is no update as to what the injury is or how severe it is. Hopefully, he’ll be OK soon.
A Final Thought: I had the wonderful fortune to watch the game with a 2-year old named Jackson nearby. As you may expect from a 2-year old, his attention to the game was limited at best. But at points in the game, he did indeed clap his hands and say “Let’s Go Devils.” It is amazing to see a Devils fan form right before my eyes. And he got to do so witnessing a decisive win by the Devils over a good Montreal team. It is one more thing to be thankful for.
Your Take: The Devils won big on Thanksgiving Eve. What do you think of the victory? Would you agree the Devils won this game in the first two periods? Which of the five goals was your favorite? Who impressed you the most? Who, if anyone, disappointed you? What should the Devils learn from this game to best prepare for Friday’s game against the Isles? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this victory in the comments.
Thanks to Ryan for putting up a game preview. Thanks to those who followed @AAtJerseyBlog and commented in the gamethread! Thank you for reading and happy Thanksgiving!