The New Jersey Devils had a rough defensive first period against the Montreal Canadiens. Vitek Vanecek, fresh in his return, made an early stir when he made a great save on Evgenii Dadonov. On the other end, Brendan Smith skated through to the high slot with confidence and ripped a shot that was deflected by Jake Allen out of play. The Devils only had a couple chances in the first couple minutes, as the Canadiens matched their speed well. That was until Miles Wood broke behind the defense when Bastian sent him ahead in transition, but Allen made a nice save on Wood in the Devils’ first good show of speed.
A little under five minutes into the game, Juraj Slafkovsky nearly broke the ice for the Canadiens off a draw, as he shot the puck high off Vanecek’s helmet - and Vanecek lost a piece of equipment as he chased the rebound. The puck was knocked to the boards, and play was blown dead so Vanecek could take his blocker back.
Arber Xhekaj took a boarding minor on Jesper Boqvist in the corner five minutes and 20 seconds into the game, as he delivered a crisp elbow into Boqvist’s back. The Devils nearly scored early on the power play when Jack Huhges had a rebound off a Hamilton point shot - but he couldn’t get the puck on the open goal. Hischier scrambled for the puck, but the Devils eventually had to reset as they could not take advantage of Jake Allen’s positioning. The best chance of the remainder of the power play was near the end of the two minutes, when Severson sent a flutterer through the zone: but Wood could not get his stick on the shot for a deflection.
John Marino made an early candidate for play of the game a bit past the halfway point of the period. Cole Caufield had drawn Vanecek to his side on a partial two-on-one, with Marino chasing behind. Marino tried to play the shot off Caufield’s pass, which left the net wide open for Nick Suzuki. Marino swiped the puck away, springing the Devils in a smooth defensive play.
Brendan Smith had two chances to score a couple minutes later. The first was off an excellent backhand pass from Zetterlund, giving Smith half the net to shoot at. The second was off a rebound of a flurry of attempts by Tatar, but Smith could not put the finish on the rebound around the net. Smith then took a terrible penalty for throwing Mike Hoffman into the boards as he skated to the bench, sending the Canadiens to the power play. Fortunately, the Devils’ penalty kill was up to the task, as they only allowed one shot on Vanecek during the two minutes, in which the Canadiens failed to set up for very long - as their only shot came on a rush when Josh Anderson took a pass to the right of the slot area. Following the penalty’s expiration, Vanecek made an excellent save when he shot across the crease to smother a one-timer in his padding, spinning on the ice with the puck as he froze play. Christian Dvorak had set up Michael Pizzetta with a tantalizing chance for Montreal, as Siegenthaler went down a bit too low in the zone to block the pass across.
All together now from your couch: VI-TEK VI-TEK pic.twitter.com/t1USOCsaa4— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 16, 2022
As the period drew to a close, Vanecek continued to stun the Canadiens, as he finished the period with 15 saves to keep the game at a 0-0 tie.
Well, this is timely after that first period. https://t.co/pvJsmrtuSo— Steve Politi (@StevePoliti) November 16, 2022
Following early forechecking pressure by Montreal, Kirby Dach took a minor penalty for tripping a slippery Jesper Bratt in the neutral zone. On the power play, Jack Hughes missed a wide open Nico Hischier with a bad pass behind him that lost the offensive zone, but Hughes nearly scored upon re-entry from the left circle, seemingly giving Allen a bit of trouble. Following this chance Hischier set Bratt up with a shot from below the faceoff circle, but Bratt’s shot was saved by Allen. The Devils continued to press the issue, and Jack Hughes ripped a shot again from the left circle past two Canadiens and Allen to give the Devils a 1-0 lead on his sixth goal of the season.
Jordan Harris deflected a shot off Miles Wood that hit the crossbar from the blueline for the Canadiens, leading the Devils to struggle defensively as the puck bounced and zipped around the zone erratically with Montreal’s puck movement. Boqvist had a rough shift when the Devils went on the offensive, as he missed the net from a wide open spot in front of Allen and then sent a terrible pass across the zone was intercepted. The Devils kept pressing again following a line change, and Dougie Hamilton rifled the puck above Allen’s glove when he used Nico Hischier as a decoy on the two-on-one. 2-0, Devils. This was Hamilton’s fifth goal of the year.
Dougie rippin' some rockets of his own. pic.twitter.com/PjatFVM8Ag— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 16, 2022
After Jack Hughes was crunched into the boards and left the ice, Jesper Boqvist missed - inexcusably - a wide open net following a shot by Jesper Bratt that deflected off Allen’s glove and sat behind the goaltender in the blue paint. Boqvist could not put it home.
Evgenii Dadonov got his first point of the season when he scored the first goal of the game for the Canadiens. An initial shot from Monahan deflected off Sharangovich to Dadonov to the right of the net, and Dadonov deposited the puck into the wide open goal to make it a 2-1 game.
Erik Haula missed a great opportunity for his first of the year, following some awesome puck work from Jack Hughes. Hughes spun on his heels in the faceoff circle to center the puck for Mercer, who knocked it into Allen’s pad. The puck rebounded to Haula. Haula seemed to have had the net, but the puck went above goal off Allen’s hip as Haula raised his hands in disbelief.
Jack Hughes chased down a high flip from Mercer - but Jake Allen played it behind the net. Hughes skated back out in front as Mercer intercepted the pass along the wall. Mercer sent it across to Hughes, who ripped a shot past Allen and spun with swagger as the Devils celebrated the goal to make it a 3-1 game.
Hughes putting on an expo pic.twitter.com/TW1JuzRZcx— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 16, 2022
Tomas Tatar nearly got his fourth goal of the season after Zetterlund took away the puck high in the offensive zone and dropped it to Tatar, who dropped it back to Zetterlund, who set a screen for Nico Hischier to take the puck around and set up a one-timer for Tatar. Tatar ripped it past Allen just 15 seconds into the period, but Martin St. Louis challenged for offsides. On review, it looked like Tatar never got himself onside when the Canadiens skated with the puck in their defensive zone, which did not affect the play in any meaningful way but took a goal away from the Devils.
A few minutes in, John Marino absolutely took Cole Caufield out of the play when Ryan Graves was out of position and McLeod, from the blueline, missed the puck on a pinch. Caufield raced for the loose puck, but Marino zipped across the ice to put him on the ice as they got to the puck. Vanecek made his first save of the period a bit past the five-minute mark.
Around the halfway point, Damon Severson slashed away on Josh Anderson, who had split up the middle for a breakaway. Severson prevented Anderson from getting a shot off, but the referees did not call a penalty shot - a lucky break, perhaps, for the Devils. On replay, it looked like Smith sat a bit too low, giving a pass lane to Anderson that Severson had to break back to cover.
John Marino continued to make plays on defense, and even led the Devils on a rush off his takeaway where he centered a pass for Bastian, who was crashing the net. However, Marino did not get off, and he was pretty tired when play was finally frozen after his shift spanned three quarters of the kill. Severson came out of the box and played the puck away from the Canadiens.
Standout shift from John Marino on the Devils' penalty kill pic.twitter.com/uAWsaIE5pM— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) November 16, 2022
As the Canadiens tried to regroup, Dawson Mercer took the puck away and was stopped on a backhand move. Jack Hughes followed up but was boxed out of the crease, and Jesper Bratt got to the loose puck and ripped it above Allen into the top shelf to give the Devils a 4-1 lead in the latter stages of the third period.
Martin St. Louis pulled the goalie with 3:54 to play. Michael McLeod iced the puck with 2:50 to play after Nathan Bastian and Ryan Graves combined for a few nice blocks. Jack Hughes hit the post with a bit over two minutes to play, from the benches. His line took a couple more attempts in the offensive zone, but the Canadiens got in the lanes.
Dougie Hamilton beautifully deflected a pass away from the crease, leading to the Canadiens setting up without a big scoring chance. Siegenthaler then blocked a shot from Suzuki out of play, leading to a timeout from Montreal with 1:12 to play. After the timeout, the Hischier line took to the ice against the Montreal top line. They could not get out of the zone early, but the Canadiens could not get to an open lane. John Marino iced the game with a full-ice empty net goal with just 2.5 seconds to play after a pass went right to him by the net. 5-1, Devils.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Eyes on the Prize for their recap of tonight’s events.
Jack Hughes, Magic Man
Early in the game, it seemed like the Canadiens were stifling Jack Hughes’ line. This led to a few plays, like when Hughes missed Hischier on the power play, where it seemed like Hughes was trying a bit too hard - moving a bit too quick and not waiting long enough to show his skill. But with as good a player as he is, you have to expect him to turn that around on a dime. He did. On that same power play, Hughes started attacking from the left circle with decisive moves into strong shots until he scored. Before he scored his second, Hughes slowed down the play with good footwork to turn from his back toward goal to set up Mercer and Haula. By the time he scored his second goal, he was getting into space and shooting as soon as he had space to do so - and good things happened. Some great offensive players have the will to score, and Jack Hughes started imposing his will in the second period.
Vanecek on His Head
Early in the game, the Devils were being decimated by Montreal in terms of attempts, chances, and shots on goal. If not for Vitek Vanecek, the Devils would have been dealing with a multi-goal deficit going into the second period. Instead, Vanecek sealed his seventh win of the season. He stopped 25 of 26 shots - with 15 of those coming just in the first period. This is a testament to the way this team functions. Most of the time, the Devils will dominate possession and the run of play - and they wore the Canadiens down. With Vanecek giving them the breathing room to get their skating legs, the Devils were able to survive a bad period and go on to win emphatically.
Top Line Dominance
They did not score tonight, thanks to the ridiculous existence of the offsides challenge. However, the line of Tatar, Hischier, and Zetterlund was absolutely ridiculous on the puck tonight. There were multiple occasions where their cyclical puck movement put the Canadiens’ top line in a blender, leading to chance after chance for the Devils. If not for Brendan Smith’s skill deficiencies or the offsides challenge, they would have gotten on the scoresheet. Nonetheless, their ability to tilt the ice absolutely neutralized Kirby Dach, Nick Suzuki, and Cole Caufield for much of the game.
After the past few games, I thought John Marino was starting to even out as a defender - but he put on a show tonight. All over the ice, Marino was breaking up passes, shots, and turning play up ice. There’s nothing not to like about the way he plays, and he absolutely deserved the goal to pad his stat sheet after the gem of a game he played on the back end. Like Vanecek, Marino gave the Devils the ability to stay in the game despite a sluggish start, as he was hounding the puck from the initial drop.
What did you think of tonight’s game? How did you feel about Hughes’ multi-point night? How about reuniting Dawson Mercer with Hughes and Bratt? What did you think about Vanecek and Marino as a duo tonight? Will anyone take the puck away from the Hischier line? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.