- An up-and-down Devils team concluded their road trip with a 3-0 loss to the Bruins in Boston, heading home to face a mediocre Montreal Canadiens squad at the Prudential Center.
- The Canadiens took the early lead off a nifty mid-air pass from Cole Caufield to Juraj Slafkovsky, putting the Devils once again on the back foot against an inferior opponent.
- Despite trailing 2-0 at the beginning of the third period, a double-minor for high-sticking sent the Devils to four minutes of power play time, and they finally broke through Montreal goaltender Samuel Montembeault twice to tie the game.
- None of it mattered in the end. John Marino failed to clear the front of the net against Cole Caufield, leaving the goalscorer free to put the Devils down 3-2 and securing their defeat.
The Devils started the game with a jump in their step, even though it didn’t result in many scoring chances—beyond Tyler Toffoli rifling the puck wide—through the first few minutes. The Canadiens got the first truly dangerous offensive chance of the game, a puck that hung around the crease and became a shot on net Daws had to be sharp to turn aside. As much as it looked like the Devils might have a decent start, it didn’t last. For the first ten minutes, both teams bag skated each other by running it up and down the ice before losing the puck in the neutral zone. The first dangerous chance from the Devils came just after the halfway mark of the period, but Montreal goaltender Samuel Montembeault saw the shots all the way into his pads and kept the score 0-0.
Hischier and Toffoli linked up for the next offensive chance. Hischier collected the puck behind the net, set it to the slot, and Toffoli hammered the shot into Montembeault. Meier came next about a minute later on a partial breakaway that would not go.
Then the Canadiens scored. It would’ve been a tough play to anticipate: Cole Caufield batted the puck in mid-air behind the net to Juraj Slafkovsky in front, who beat Daws through the five-hole. Though Caufield’s play itself was difficult to defend, it should’ve never happened. Daws skated out pretty far from his net to play the puck by the red line. Nemec or Mercer should’ve collected that puck, but either there was a miscommunication from the goalie or a misunderstanding from Nemec/Mercer that resulted in Caufield’s play behind the net. Mercer in particular seemed to think he had more time. But Caufield went in hard on the forecheck and created his own luck. The Canadiens took the 1-0 lead.
Daws made another big save shortly after the goal as the Devils began to get careless and lackadaisical in front of their own net. Luckily, Kaidan Guhle high-sticked Timo Meier and sent the Devils to their first power play of the night. Unluckily, the Devils only mustered two shots. Alexander Holtz had a hard one-timer from the left circle than Montembeault swallowed, but aside from some occasional nice puck movement, the Devils didn’t look very threatening.
They headed to the second period down 1-0.
Nico Hischier drew a penalty early in the second period, sending the Devils back to the power play with hopes that they’d have more success the second time around. Hischier followed that up with a nice chance in front off Toffoli’s patient pass, but Montembeault once again saw the puck all the way into his pad. They did their best to get pucks to the net. Ultimately, nothing outside Hischier’s first chance tested the goalie or the defenders. Their one-timers were too telegraphed and didn’t have quite the quick coordination required to surprise anyone.
The Devils took their first penalty of the night to prevent an offensive chance. Fortunately, the Canadiens also did not get much going with their extra man. I know the Devils’ penalty kill has struggled this season, ranking 24th in the league coming into the game tonight. I wish I could tell you they killed the penalty by breaking up multiple passes and making successful clears, but—outside Colin Miller blocking a shot—they played as passively as ever. Nevertheless, the Canadiens couldn’t score and the Devils headed toward the halfway mark of the game down 1-0.
Mercer almost brought them back but Montembeault made his fifteenth save to maintain the Canadiens’ lead. Haula’s breakaway shortly after was also turned aside. Meier had yet another prime chance to score but couldn’t quite put it past the goalie down low.
Yet it was the Canadiens who scored next. A bad change left Sean Monahan and Joshua Roy free to break into the zone with a two-on-one. Monahan stayed patient as he bore down on Daws, eventually saucering a pass to Roy in front for the goal. It was Roy’s first NHL goal. Nemec misplayed this two-on-one, but it’s hard to fault him as the play should never have happened in the first place. Nevertheless, he overskated his man and lost sight of the developing play. In the end, he covered neither Monahan nor Roy, took away neither the shot nor the pass. But it was Nemec’s fault second—and the bench bosses for signaling the change first, as well as everyone who left the ice as the Canadiens were blitzing the other way.
Kevin Bahl drew a four-minute high-sticking penalty near the end of the period, so while they’d head toward the third period down 2-0, they had just over three minutes of power play time to work with.
Luke Hughes scored on the first power play, the first Devils goal in over 100 minutes of play time. It was a heavy wrister from the point, which made its way through traffic and Montembeault to put the Devils on the board. Crucially, he scored with time remaining on the first power play, sending the Devils to the second half of the double minor. Daws followed up Hughes’ goal with a good save off a takeaway—other nights, that would’ve been a momentum-killing goal. Then Alexander Holtz scored on the second power play, another hard slapper from the blue line.
So why now? Why did Montembeault stop everything up until now? Well, the power plays certainly help. Let’s not pretend the man advantage didn’t give them, you know, the advantage. But it wasn’t quite that simple. Before, every shot that went Montembeault’s way came down low off a static play. Like Daws, Montembeault excelled at taking the bottom of the net away. He stopped the shots that he could see, and he stopped the shots that came from one location. So when Hughes wristed a shot through traffic that he couldn’t immediately pick up (and deflected off a man), the Devils got on the board. And when Holtz got his shot off from the point, it was a hard one-timer that forced Montembeault to move side-to-side. They finally tested the goalie, and they got two quick ones to tie the game 2-2.
That puck had a family, Alexander! pic.twitter.com/SvAhaRFbsH— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 18, 2024
Cal Foote later made a good shot block on a Montreal Canadiens rush. The Canadiens began pulling the momentum back their way, but Daws was equal to the pressure. Daws’ lateral movement was excellent despite (or perhaps because of) his recent hip surgeries. At the other end, Haula forced a turnover singlehandedly and earned a scoring chance for Curtis Lazar.
But the Canadiens scored. It was a dagger to the heart because all the momentum had gone the Devils’ way, but that’s what happens when you can’t clear the front of the net. Daws made the first save off a shot from the point. Then Monahan and Caufield had inside body position on John Marino and co., as well as all the time in the world to poke the rebound pass Nico Daws. I did not like this goal. I don’t like any goal against the Devils, but this one was very frustrating. Caufield is 5’7”. For all the fans saying the Devils are soft, especially on defense, well there’s all the evidence you’ll ever need. Just turn that goal into a gif and leave it as a comment anytime someone disagrees. (The record will show that I have disagreed with the soft accusations sometimes in the past, while also advocating for a heavier defenseman on the back end.)
Here is the gif. Save it. Use it as your greatest weapon. It will not let you down.
The Devils lost 3-2.
Ice Time Matters
This was originally going to be a section on Cal Foote, but I’m going to shift the focus. Let’s take a look at ice time. Of course, every fan, writer, and analyst thinks that they would play the right guys at the right time and for the correct amount of time. I will recognize my own bias there.
We’ll start at the bottom: Max Willman played 5:39. Chris Tierney played 7:19. Alexander Holtz, who had one of the better games of any Devils forward, played just 8:07. And Cal Foote, who does have over 100 games of NHL experience, played 13:01. At the other end of the spectrum, Timo Meier—who also had a good game—played more than twenty minutes in his first game back from injury, and Luke Hughes (currently sick) played 23:40.
No wonder they faded in the final minutes.
Yes, it’s partly a consequence of all the injuries they’ve sustained. But let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot by gassing the few stars we have left. Back in the day, the Chicago Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup by essentially playing between four and five defensemen on a given night. It worked for them (barely) then because they were only going for twenty games. But that strategy is not sustainable through the lion’s share of a season.
At the end of the day, if the Devils lost because, well, we’re playing quite a few AHL players, then fine. But they didn’t, because those guys barely even played. I won’t pretend that they did particularly well in the five minutes they did skate tonight—they got caved in on possession, all of them. But you’re the home team. You have last change. If you don’t trust them much, you have the ability to determine their matchups through the night.
Lindy Ruff does not trust the AHL call-ups very much, outside the other night when Willman and Bowers played a reasonable amount of ice time. Fine, I get it. But if it continues this way, I’ll expect the Devils to fade as the season goes on, not grow stronger. Barring our injured players returning and covering the leaking roof with a bunch of plaster, for now.
Score a goal? Straight to jail. Right to jail right away.
Alexander Holtz played only four shifts in the third period. He scored in his first shift on the power play. Then he played three more through the remaining eighteen minutes. Their lengths: 0:35, 0:09, 0:33. He did not take a shift in the final eight minutes of the game.
Perhaps the NHL should shift their focus from Shane Pinto and head southward.
That’s sarcasm, of course. I’m being completely sarcastic.
Clear the front of the net
Per MoneyPuck, the Devils win about 77% of the time based off the events of the game. Per MoneyPuck, the Canadiens only generated 2.36 expected goals for. Per Natural Stat Trick, John Marino had a positive CF%, even SCF%, and even HDCF%.
None of that matters. In the final 4:31 of regulation with momentum on their side, Marino could not clear 5’7” Cole Caufield from the front of the net. Nemec also lost his man and allowed Monahan inside the crease to support Caufield, but really the damage was done at that point.
They might’ve had this one if they’d cleared the net on this one play. They certainly would’ve earned themselves a point. Instead, they’re going home with a regulation loss and a schedule that’s not getting any easier. I’m quite sad, actually, that Marino has been so bad this year. He was a revelation last season and I was looking forward to many more seasons with him on the team. But right now he’s an anchor and he’s dragging the Devils down into the depths.
Well, that was certainly a hockey game. What’re your thoughts on the game? Do you agree with Holtz sitting through the third, or is there a serious disconnect between the coach and the usage of a talented young forward giving it his all? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading. Onward.