Tuesday night’s Habs contest was one of interest for many unusual reasons. Firstly, in their visit to the Prudential Center, the Canadiens were facing the surprising and fast-paced Devils. How would the youthful Canadiens roster match up with the Devils and their speed? Could they contain Hart-hopeful Taylor Hall? If the mention of the youthful Habs seems odd, this roster lacked Carey Price, Shea Weber, Victor Mete, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec (traded), and now Antti Niemi. Despite this extensive list of notable absentees, the Habs have been at their best recently.
The second point of interest on the night: Could the kids continue to play spoiler a little all over the league (including to their own lottery aspirations)? Thirdly and finally, tonight’s contest was of interest for debuts. Charlie Lindgren made his debut as the uncontested number one with both Price and Niemi injured. Nikita Scherbak made his debut as an uncontested top-6sixwinger on the roster. Rinat Valiev was making his Habs debut after being acquired in the Plekanec trade. All points of interests. None of them but the first one would matter as the Devils destroyed the Habs. The final score of 6-4 is not indicative of a game that was 6-1 at one point. The Canadiens kept fighting and the Devils took their foot off the accelerator, but this game was never close.
The game started on the promised fast pace and while the Habs kept up, there were a few defensive lapses early that forces Charlie Lindgren to signal his presence. The great pace of the first shift was quickly replaced with a more defensively conscious contest, a detail that likely pleased Claude Julien considering it suited his team far more than the Devils. The Devils scored first when Jordie Benn and Nicolas Deslauriers lost a board battle in the defensive zone with the result being a Will Butcher point shot. The shot was deflected by Stefan Noesen for an early deficit for the visiting Habs. After the goal, it took five minutes for Montreal to stop looking at the Devils skating around them. Right as the Habs started to get some scoring chances, Brian Boyle beat Karl Alzner to a loose puck in the Montreal zone. Boyle went around the zone and found a wide-open Butcher at the point and his latest point shot was not handled properly by Lindgren. Coleman was all over the rebound as Noah Juulsen was guilty of playing softly in front of his net on this play.
This once again appeared to stun the Habs, as a few seconds later, Jacob de la Rose was sent to the box for slashing in the offensive zone. New Jersey’s power play made quick work of the woeful Canadiens road penalty. A completely missed pass by Palmieri was tipped home by Travis Zajac to make it 3-0 with under two minutes to play. With 20 seconds left, Andrew Shaw took another penalty (four minutes), this time for an offensive zone high stick. The Devils would strike a 4th time in that 20 seconds. They won the face-off and Taylor Hall quickly ripped a shot into Alzner. Alzner could not keep the puck as Zajac stole it from him and quickly scored on Lindgren to end the period at 4-0.
Lindgren and the Canadiens started the second period needing to kill the last minute of the Shaw double minor. The team succeeded, and the period was off to a great start. Three minutes in, Coleman was sent to the box for hooking. The power play was not able to establish itself at all, but the Habs would admirably claw their back into the period until Phillip Danault and Zajac were sent off for incidental minors.
Surprisingly, the 4-on-4 situation favoured the Habs as an outstanding effort by Jeff Petry to gain access to the offensive zone was surpassed by an outstanding effort by Gallagher who crashed the net with the puck and flipped it over the shoulder of a cheating Keith Kinkaid. Immediately after the goal, Valiev would get his name on the scoresheet as he was guilty of a slashing infraction in the defensive zone. The Devils capitalized on the 4-on-3 scenario for their third power play marker of the night. Hall won the faceoff, placed himself for a one-timer, and when he whiffed on it, Patrick Maroon was in the right place at the right time for a completely open net goal.
To the credit of the Canadiens, they kept fighting despite getting very few bounces their way. With 3:46 to play in the period, Brian Boyle made it 6-1 when he pounced on a rebound, steamrolling both Byron Froese and Juulsen in the process of getting to the loose puck. The Devils were unable to pile it on after the Boyle goal since they were quickly penalized. The Habs disastrous power play (on this night) reared its ugly head, unable to even create momentum for the team. However, the Habs once again refused to quit and got on the board in the final minutes of the period when the Devils blocked three consecutive shots by Valiev, Benn, and finally, Danault before the puck found de la Rose who scored in the empty cage.
The Habs used the final 20 minutes to make the score look better than the game actually was. The first five minutes of the period were rather eventless as both teams appeared content to go through the motions and get this game over and done with. Montreal’s fourth line apparently wasn’t aware of this agreement since they played a shift hard and created some havoc around Kinkaid. The result of the shift was Daniel Carr in the box for unsportsmanlike conduct. The play did little to change the momentum as the next 10 minutes pretty much expired without a noteworthy event taking place.
With a bit more than five minutes to play and the Habs streaking into the Devils zone, de la Rose tipped in his second of the night on what appeared to be a centring pass attempted by Andrew Shaw. Finally, in the final minute of play, Reilly hit Froese with a point shot, but the Habs maintained possession in the offensive zone. Reilly got a second point shot, and this time Froese put home the rebound with Deslauriers crashing the net to get it to 6-4. Montreal would then pull Charlie Lindgren for the extra attacker but wasn’t able to muster up much of an attack in that last minute.
Observation of the Night
Tonight was quite ugly. This game was also a reminder of the importance, in the long term, of the presence of Carey Price, Shea Weber, and Max Pacioretty. This team can only go so far on effort alone; at some point, a certain amount of skill also needs to be present. If management decides to part ways with some of the talent on the roster, some talent better be coming back, because this team as it is currently constructed lacks talent.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher continues to be the only consistent Hab in this atrocious season. If Pacioretty is indeed gone this summer, here’s my selection (that means nothing) for the next player to wear the C in Montreal.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 3 shots, 15:19 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jacob de la Rose
On a night when the team plays in an acceptable fashion, the offensive zone penalty in the first that gets the party started for New Jersey would be enough to keep de la Rose off my selection for the three stars. As it stands, the team stunk, and he scored two goals for the team, despite the goals coming well after he cost the team a goal that was way more important than the goals he would eventually score.
Stats: 2 goals, +1, 4 shots, 2 hits, 15:53 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Mike Reilly
Reilly continues his good start since arriving in Montreal. His pairing with Petry was easily the best one for Montreal. Honestly, that isn’t saying much though. Reilly did contribute offensively, however, with two assists to give him four in his first four games with the Canadiens.
Stats: 2 assists, +2, 2 shots, 2 hits, 21:49 T.O.I.