Nothing better than starting a hockey game with absolutely nothing happening. BUT we didn’t start it by getting penned in our own zone, so I’ll take it.
Both teams start with some back and forth pressure, but the Devils pick up the first two shots on goal, one from a quick release from Taylor Hall out on the wing and another from a quick tip towards net at the goal line. The Devils are well familiar with their opponent in net tonight, and its clear they have a game plan coming in— they start the game with three shots in three minutes and despite the low shooting percentages of some of the triggermen on the Devils so far this season, shoot first and shoot often definitely seems to be the name of the offensive game here in Montreal. Carry in by Damon Severson and a point shot. Drop pass to PK Subban for a shot. Drive to the net to pick up the rebound for a shot from Matt Tennyson. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Finally, a game I won’t have to sit on my couch and yell SHOOT at the TV.
I probably will anyway.
But the Devils have come into this first period against Montreal with one move, and they spend the first half of the period doing exactly that— carry in, get a shot off, maybe two or even a third on the rebound, then head back towards Mackenzie Blackwood. Montreal gets a shot off, a more dangerous rebound, then right back the other way again. Rinse and repeat.
Wayne Simmonds gets the opportunity to spice things up a bit when the puck suddenly shows up on his stick right in the slot but Keith Kinkaid gets the stop. On the next shift in the zone the top line sets up and gets a few good chances including one for Jesper Bratt with the net wide open but he can’t get to the rebound before the Canadiens defenseman does.
Just over ten minutes, and the Devils have 13 shots on Kinkaid including 3 high danger chances. That’s 13 shots out of 14 chances, so they’re not just bombing away.
Bratt picks up the puck off the boards and sends a pass in to Taylor Hall at the side of the net. Hall tries to stuff it past Kinkaid who covers. The two then reminisce for a moment before resetting for the next face-off. Bratt gets a quick shot off the face-off but Kinkaid covers that too. Montreal gets it out off the next one. Nico Hischier blocks a shot from Shea Weber with zero hesitation to get the puck out of the zone and sent the puck back the other way again.
Worth noting at this point in the game that each of the times the Devils have had to take a couple whacks at getting the puck back out of their own zone rather than a clean pickup and breakout, the third pairing has been on the ice. They aren’t allowing a disproportionate amount of shots but if you could count the number of passes or pass attempts it takes to exit the zone, they might be double the other two pairings.
With the fourth line on the ice, Pavel Zacha makes a rough pass that gets picked off by the Canadiens but Hayden bats their pass out of the air and is able to clear the zone. Back in come the Canadiens who put together a scary sequence of lateral passes leading to what could have been an empty net shot but Travis Zajac ties up his man beautifully and prevents what would have otherwise been a sure goal.
Miles Wood picks up a loose puck and flies down the outside boards, outstrips the Canadiens defensemen, gets shoved from behind at the last second and collides into Kinkaid at full speed. Kinkaid, having watched Wood play enough, had to have been having a stroke watching him fly towards him knowing what was bound to happen, and sure enough it did, but fortunately both are fine.
Montreal comes down the other way with Thomas Tatar carrying the puck. Will Butcher sweeps it off his stick but its redirected towards Jeff Petry. Petry walks around the top of the zone unchallenged before sending a shot towards the goal. The puck is redirected by Brendan Gallagher past Blackwood to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead.
The Devils know they deserve better here, and Blackwood deserves better, and they respond the right way. Off the face-off they get into the zone. Kinkaid is forced to make a big save that puts him slightly out of position to the side of his net. Zajac keeps the play alive at the boards, sends a pass towards the slot for Coleman. Coleman sends an almost blind backhand to Nikita Gusev who absolutely launches a one-timer into the wide open net to beat Kinkaid and tie the game up at 1.
Spicy little dish from Blake Coleman to Nikita Gusev. pic.twitter.com/9u9ezXeW85— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) November 17, 2019
The Devils make it through the remaining seconds of the period unscathed and go into the second tied at 1. They dominated the first period with 21 shots to the Canadiens 9, a whopping 1.62 xGF to the Canadiens 0.22, and 7 high danger scoring chances while holding the Canadiens to just 1. The leader in those chances? The Zajac - Coleman - Gusev line, who finished 5 minutes of ice time with an 80.0CF%. Despite the even score, its worth noting this is yet another period where the Devils massively outworked their opponents with little to show for it.
The Canadiens start off the second period with a quick chance on Blackwood but he makes the stop and the Devils take the puck the other way for a quick shot from Bratt. The second line comes on and battles for the puck in the offensive zone, led mostly by Miles Wood battling on the boards. The third line comes on and picks the puck out of the neutral zone. Gusev walks in with the puck and rips a shot at Kinkaid. Kinkaid freezes it, drawing a face-off. Coleman gets a shot on him immediately off the face-off again. Off the next face-off the Devils dance around the outside of the zone before feeding a pass to Tennyson for a shot. The fourth line takes the ice and wins the face-off but Montreal manages to exit the zone. They drop back to Petry but the shot is blocked away and the Devils return to the Canadiens end. Hischier wheels and deals around the boards before trying to find Hall in the slot— it skips over his stick but finds Butcher, who sends a shot at Kinkaid. He lets up a big rebound but it bounces too far out for anyone to pick it up and Montreal escapes the zone.
Montreal starts to tilt the game a bit as the second period goes on. In the first four minutes of the period, they did not have a single shot on net—the Devils had 9. In the next four, they had 4. They pen the Devils in their own end for several minutes and force Blackwood to make a few saves but the Devils finally make it out of the zone. Simmonds finds a streaking Severson and springs him and Zacha, but the pass to Zacha is broken up by the backchecking Tatar. The Canadiens come back the other way as Fleury stickhandles down the middle of the ice, around a diving Devils stick, and backhands it past Blackwood for his first NHL goal and the go-ahead goal for the Canadiens. 2-1 Montreal.
The Devils turn back to try and regain the tie. Kinkaid goes behind the net to play the puck on a dump in but it bounces hard off the back wall, finding a wide open Taylor Hall in the slot in front of an empty net. He settles it, shoots, and somehow does not score. The Canadiens owe a very large thank you to whatever hockey god has cursed Hall and the diving effort of their defenseman who slid in front of the net at the right moment to rob Hall of a sure goal. The game pace triples here— full speed races both directions, shots galore, rebounds galore. Back in the Canadiens end, Nikita Gusev rips a bomb from the point then joins the scramble in front and nearly puts in a rebound.
The Devils get a clear that Miles Wood chases down, hangs onto along the boards pressured by two Canadiens, and gets a pass to Kyle Palmieri down behind the net, but its stripped and Montreal goes back the other way.
Max Domi finds himself on a breakaway towards the Devils end and Subban is forced to take a slashing penalty to prevent the rush goal. The Devils go to the penalty kill for the first time tonight. Zajac, Coleman, Greene, and Severson line up for the kill. Montreal sets up and somehow the Devils draw another penalty. Severson gets called for a hook for lifting the stick of a Canadien and his stick slipped slightly too close to the hands, and the Devils are left with 90 seconds of 5 on 3 to kill. The Canadiens set up again. Blackwood makes the initial save on a shot from the point but Nick Suzuki, set up at the side of the net, is able to bury the rebound. 3-1 Montreal and the Devils are still left with 90 seconds of penalty to kill.
Nico Hischier, however, has singlehandedly decided that’s not good enough. He picks up the puck for a shorthanded breakaway, dangles, but can’t put it past Kinkaid. Montreal goes back the other way, but Nico’s not done. He picks up yet another puck and takes a 2 on 1 with Pavel Zacha. Zacha carries it up and makes the pass to Hischier, who buries it this time with 2 seconds left on the clock for the second period. The Devils are back within 1 and will go into the third period down 3-2 with 18 seconds left on the penalty to Damon Severson to start.
The Devils start the period by killing off the rest of the Severson penalty. We then jump right back into the cycle of ping pong hockey for a few moments before the Canadiens’ Weal high sticks Gusev in the face and takes a double minor for drawing blood. The first wave of the Devils power play starts with Hall, Hughes, Butcher, Simmonds, and Palmieri as usual. Hall handles the puck off the side wall for a few moments before ripping a wrist shot that rings off the post. Montreal applies some pressure on the forecheck to try to kill some time. Then the refs decide the Devils have had enough chances and hand them an utterly ridiculous too many men penalty on a chance that was less than a foot away from the boards with Montreal in possession of the puck at the time. 4 on 4 hockey ensues. The Canadients get a few looks before Taylor Hall picks up a near breakaway and draws a ____ penalty from Max Domi. Hall, Hischier, Severson and Palmieri set up for the 4 on 3. It takes until 15 seconds remain to get any traction in the zone. The too many men expires and Gusev joins the party. He sends a pass across the slot to Hall who rips a shot high but Kinkaid gets over and shuts it down.
WHERE was this Kinkaid for us?
The finally penalty expires for the Canadiens and the game returns to 5 on 5.
Montreal’s Kulak aims a late hit towards the head of Blake Coleman and takes another penalty. The Devils power play gets yet another try.
Oh no wait.
Now Wayne Simmonds gets a penalty for hooking—he turned the blade over on the stick of a Canadien, and back to 4 on 4 we go.
For real this time.
Hischier and Gusev step on with Subban and Butcher for the 4 on 4. The Canadiens handle the possession for a bit before Gusev picks off a pass. The Devils chance for Hall and Palmieri. Hall comes in for a rush but is stripped. They try again though and this time come back with a 3 on 2. Palmieri makes the pass across to Hall, this time he shanks the shot. The 4 on 4 expires and we go to 23 seconds on the penalty kill. Nothing develops on the kill time but the Canadiens enter the zone as it expires and have a few looks but nothing to show for it.
Aaaaand we get another penalty. This time Miles Wood goes for a high stick while tangled up with Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Back to the penalty kill!
Within 10 seconds the Canadiens knock the stick from Coleman’s hands and Max Domi sweeps it away from him on the ice, which is in fact a penalty. Domi actually takes two penalties, one for interference and one for unsportsmanlike, so we’ll play 4 on 4 for 1:50 followed by 2 minutes of 5 on 4. Presumably.
We set up in the Devils zone. Hischier sends a shot from the point. Hall sends a shot from a bad angle that goes across the line behind a diving Kinkaid. Butcher picks up the rebound and misses the open net.
Aaaand Palmieri takes a cross-checking penalty. Now we play 4 on 3 for 30 seconds. Nothing happens and Wood comes out for another 90 seconds of 4 on 4. We survive 4 on 4 and go to about 30 seconds of 5 on 4. They actually manage to gain and possess the zone this time. Hughes finds Hall in his spot in the circle. Hall takes a moment to settle the pass and give Kinkaid a second to set up on the near side for the shot before threading a pass across the slot to Wayne Simmonds at the backdoor. Simmonds buries it and ties the game in the waning seconds of the power play. 3-3 game!
The Devils set up again in the Canadiens zone. They start to buzz a bit. Gusev sends a shot that Zajac nearly buries at the net. Butcher picks up a rebound and takes a shot that’s stopped by Kinkaid. Montreal finally gets them out and gets a change. The Canadiens look to change things in their favor in the final minute of the game. Shea Weber lines up for a shot that breaks his stick. With less than a minute the crease fills with bodies as both teams dig for the puck. The whistle blows, the Canadiens celebrate but the call on the ice is a goal. The call goes to Toronto, who decides the puck was kicked [read: knee-ed] into the net and the game remains tied with 47 seconds left of regulation. Neither team seems particularly interested in losing their guaranteed point so the clock ticks down and we go to overtime!
3 v 3 starts with Hall, Hischier, and Subban. Within 20 seconds Hall draws a penalty. The Devils pull Blackwood to allow Hughes on. They set up but aren’t able to convert. They set up for a 4 on 3 power play with Palmieri, Hall, Hischier, and Damon Severson. Hischier wins the draw. Palmieri drops it back to Severson who tips it to Hall. Hall rips it from up high but it goes just wide. They reset and regain the zone. Palmieri carries in and drops back to Severson. Severson sends a bomb in that’s knocked aside by Kinkaid. Palmieri retrieves the loose puck and sends it behind the net around to Nico Hischier. Hischier tips it to Hall, who sweeps it to Palmieri. Palmieri rips a one-timer that beats Kinkaid and picks up the overtime win for the Devils!
Despite the struggle on the scoresheet, the Devils did not look like they were struggling in this game. Their power play took too long to gain traction, especially with the ridiculous amount of opportunities they had, but at 5 on 5 they dominated the play. Montreal tilted things a bit in the third period but the Devils led in total 43 shots to 34 and finished with 71% of the high danger scoring chances.
Mueller and Tennyson: I’m not gonna beat a dead horse here, but I will say that together, they’re playing like one. The Devils just called Colton White up from Binghamton yesterday. He hasn’t practiced yet since he came up on the first day of a back to back but I’d imagine after a practice or two he slots into the lineup pretty quickly. Everyone burn a sacrifice to the hockey gods that Carrick and/or Vatanen come back soon (kidding, please don’t actually burn or sacrifice anything).
Mackenzie Blackwood is playing his best hockey lately. It’s tough to criticize anything when he’s been so good for us, but even on a .926 sv% night he still had a few notable mistakes (positive thought for Devils fans— he’s been excellent and still has room to improve. In general, he needs to work on his rebound control. Particularly on pad saves he tends to launch juicy rebounds right into the slot, but even on shots to the breadbasket he’s bounced or dropped a few that he really needs to snuff out.
Taylor Hall is playing good hockey. He’s making amazing shots. He’s getting 2 on 1s, breakaways, wide open nets, and he’s getting absolutely robbed. I have absolutely no idea what or why or how its possible he’s not getting these goals. His execution on the breakaways could be better but that’s not the reason goalies are flying across to rob his one-timers or why Shea Weber happens to dive perfectly in the way to block his shot at a wide open net. He might be hesitating a bit, trying to line up the perfect shot in an attempt to finally break whatever insanely effective curse has a hold on him. Whatever’s going on, its not for lack of good hockey or for lack of effort from Hall.
Nico Hischier was yet again quietly one of the best players on the ice. He’s got hands of pure Selke. Deny him on the breakaway on the penalty kill? Look out, he’s on the 2 on 1 seconds later. Power play quarterback? Perfect passes in OT? Hischier’s got it, and we love it.
Nikita Gusev was arguably one of the other top players on the team, which is probably the first time we’ve been able to even come close to saying that so far this season. He lead the team with a 65.63 CF% at 5v5, an 84.03 xGF% at 5v5, and 6 shots on goal. His line led the team in 5v5 ice time and he logged 15 minutes of total ice time, almost double what he’s played in some previous games. He seems to be finally adjusting to the NHL game and its a thing of beauty to watch.
Your Take: Who had the best game tonight? What black magic does Hall have to do to score? Is Gusev THE GOOSE yet, or do you think he’ll continue to get even better? How have the two games this weekend affected your outlook on the season? Leave your thoughts and answers in the comments below and thanks for reading!