The last game of this extended homestand for the Canadiens was a visit from the New Jersey Devils. Considering it was their last home game of 2017, one would have expected that the Habs would be ready to go on Thursday night, needing some positive energy before leaving for their longest trip of the season over the holiday break. What was in store for the fans was a very timid contest between two teams who appeared content with the idea of a low-scoring contest. Not only was the game limited in scoring, it was also limited in terms of good offensive chances; this was a chess match of sorts. The outcome of such a game was therefore logical as a 2-1 overtime victory for the Canadiens.
It was an action-packed start as Paul Byron received a cross-check in the numbers to start the game that would send him to the dressing room off the opening faceoff. At the end of this shift, Cory Schneider made a tremendous glove save on Max Pacioretty. On the second shift of the contest, the Devils took advantage of a brutal change on the Montreal bench to walk down the middle of the ice as Stefan Noesen got the first goal of the game with only 1:21 expired. Byron would return to the ice for one shift before leaving again for the majority of the first period.
After the opening goal, the Canadiens took control of the play, but they were unable to get a puck through Schneider who was at the summit of his technique early on. As the Habs really applied pressure in the offensive zone, Phillip Danault won a few puck battles deep in the Devils’ zone and sent the puck to the point where Jordie Benn released a good slapshot that was redirected by Andrew Shaw to tie the game with 6:29 to play.
The goal oddly turned the table as it got the Devils going. New Jersey got some offensive zone time, but this time, Carey Price was ready and made a few saves to keep the game tied. With three minutes to play, Danault received Blake Coleman’s stick to the face to give Montreal a power play occasion. As is often the case this season, Montreal looked dangerous on the man-advantage, but they could not capitalize to take the lead as the period ended at 1-1.
The second period started much slower as both teams exchanged some zone time without really looking dangerous. With three minutes expired, Byron Froese was called for tripping. It was a missed call as Froese’s stick wasn’t in Severson’s skates, but even at that, it was likely a makeup call for not sending Shaw to the box for goaltender interference moments prior. The Habs killed off the first minute of this odd-man situation until Karl Alzner took a slashing penalty that would award the Devils with a full minute of 5-on-3 play. The Canadiens were in trouble, although they got out of the situation unscathed, but not without some spectacular play by Price.
Shortly after these important kills, Joe Morrow was sent to the box for hooking as the Habs continued to play with fire. After Montreal was successful in killing another penalty, they finally got an opportunity of their own as John Moore was sent off for high-sticking. The power play was unsuccessful, looking far less dangerous this time around as David Schlemko and Jonathan Drouin really struggled to get coordinated in their attempts at gaining the New Jersey zone. The last five minutes of the period was played at a torrid pace, even though it was mostly up-and-down play as both teams took turn attacking but not providing enough pressure to sustain any attack. The period ended with the same 1-1 score.
The Devils came out with far more energy than the Canadiens to start the third as most of the first four minutes of play were spent in the Montreal zone. At the four-minute mark, one solid shift from Danault, Max Pacioretty, and Byron really swung momentum as Blake Coleman took an unnecessary penalty for tripping Byron. Even though the best opportunity of the sequence went the way of a New Jersey breakaway that was stopped by Price, the Habs spent enough time in the Devils’ zone to create positive momentum that carried to even-strength play once the penalty was over. Schneider was forced to make successive important stops on Shaw, Danault, Tomas Plekanec, and Charles Hudon without flinching. Pressure mounted against the Devils, but Schneider really saved a point for his teammates as the 1-1 score persisted and both teams secured a point in the standings.
The overtime started with a great scoring chance for Jonathan Drouin, but once again Schneider answered the call. Byron and Galchenyuk then proceeded to keep the pressure throughout a solid overtime shift. Galchenyuk finished his overtime shift with a pass to Hudon to gain the New Jersey zone. Hudon then completed one of the nicest plays I’ve seen this season. He held the puck against three Devils while his two linemates completed their change. After successfully luring the attention of all three defenders, he won the puck battle and completed a pass to Tomas Plekanec who finally beat Schneider five-hole to end the night.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Andrew Shaw
Ever since Claude Julien has arrived, Shaw has become one of the most intense and consistent players on the roster. The timing of his physical play is much smarter, his forecheck is intelligent, and his effort seems regulated. On this night, he was a standout again as he won more than his fair share of puck battles, and battles in front of the net where he netted the first-period goal for Montreal from an impressive tip-in.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 4 shots, 2 hits, 18:01 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Charles Hudon
Another player who seems to have far more good nights than bad, Hudon played a decent game, but his play in overtime beating three players before finding Plekanec for the game winner is the stuff that creates enough confidence for players to go on extended scoring streaks. It will be interesting to see how he reacts because that play was simply awesome and hopefully it can be the start of him finishing a bit more of the occasions he creates.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 0 hits, 14:03 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jordie Benn
I was critical of Julien playing Benn next to Weber after the Edmonton game. Tonight, Benn made me look like a fool and I’m glad he did. Benn looked like the player that came over from Dallas to finish last season on this night as he won most of his defensive zone puck battles and took many shots on net. This last detail is interesting as he appears to understand that he can afford to take bit more offensive risks while playing next to Weber. If he continues to play with this level of intelligence, competitiveness, and confidence, here’s hoping he continues to make me look foolish.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 4 shots, 3 hits, 21:35 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Carey Price
Price only gets an honourable mention because of the fact that Schneider had to stop more in terms of quality chances. This being said, Price made some important saves when he needed to. Consider the minute long 5-on-3 and the shorthanded breakaway as two game-savers for the Habs. He remains the best player on this team, but his status means expectations are higher, so other guys had better games when handicapping the score. Still a solid game by Price.
Stats: 32 shots faces, 31 saves, 0.969 sv%, 61:49 T.O.I.