The Habs returned to action on Wednesday as they travelled to New Jersey to take on the Devils. The second game of the week featured the return of Xavier Ouellet to the lineup thanks to the facial injury to Noah Juulsen. Up front, Michael Chaput was making his regular season debut for Montreal as he replaced Matthew Peca. The goaltending confrontation featured Carey Price against Keith Kinkaid as one would expect when these two teams square off.
Once the teams got on the ice, the relatively even matchup on paper was anything but close. The Devils used speed and size to completely embarrass a Montreal blueline that resembled deer in headlights for much of the night. Ouellet, David Schlemko, Mike Reilly, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Tomas Tatar, and Phillip Danault clearly had their worst efforts of the season on this night. The outcome, as expected, was a 5-2 loss as the Devils coasted in the third period to keep the score this close.
If the opening of Monday’s game featured two teams looking for their stride, tonight’s first five minutes started with speed as the Habs applied pressure and were able to get a few scoring chances early. Unfortunately, the Devils were also ready at puck drop because the Hab defenders were also pressured into many mistakes.
As the sixth minute of play expired, Ouellet was trapped by two Devil forecheckers and attempted a last-ditch pass to Victor Mete. Mete had no time to react and coughed up the puck. The Devils moved the puck to the point where Andy Greene put the puck on net and had the shot tipped home by Kyle Palmieri.
True to the form of the game, the Habs spent all of 25 seconds responding and tying the game. A safe breakout that followed the boards was executed by both Jordie Benn and Andrew Shaw. The result was an innocent looking rush by Jonathan Drouin. Drouin kept wide and was given too much space by the defender and Kinkaid, so he quickly decided to try the shot on net which was perfectly located over Kinkaid’s shoulder yet under the crossbar.
The Devils responded to the goal with strong forechecking as they thoroughly outplayed the Habs for most of the next ten minutes. If Charles Hudon looked defensively helpless on Monday, this ten-minute segment saw repeated poor decisions by Nicolas Deslauriers and Ouellet which ensured the play remained in the defensive zone.
The Devils’ tenacity would finally be rewarded when Jesperi Kotkaniemi won the faceoff and Schlemko treated the puck like a hot potato and threw it away. The panicked move placed Reilly in an impossible position as Taylor Hall stole the puck. Schlemko then compounded his mistake by trying to help Reilly instead of keeping his coverage of Nico Hischier in front of the net. As soon as Schlemko opened that door, Hall sent the puck to the open Hischier in the slot of an easy goal to restore the lead.
After a terrible second half of the period, one expected a bit of bounce back from the Canadiens since the team has gotten its fans used to this resiliency in the first quarter of the season. They showed none of that in the second as they came out completely flat.
Price’s first solid save of the period came in the opening minute as Palmieri essentially skated through the Hab defenders to earn a shot from the slot. After a few more saves and many inaccurate passes from the back end, the Habs were given some help as the Devils were called for too many men. The Habs power play was a non-factor as the units deployed would have cost them all their momentum if they would have had any prior to it. This failed man advantage proved to be the final chance the Habs had on this night.
As the second half of the period began, the situation managed to get worse for the Canadiens. Their level of play remained the same, but the Devils started finishing the chances. The first Devils goal of the period saw Hischier skate circles around Schlemko before passing off to his defender as the pass went cross-ice a first time, and then a second time to find Taylor Hall for an open net and a 3-1 lead.
One minute later, Petry, Ouellet, and Andrew Shaw actually made the effort to cover the proper players, but the night just wasn’t one where things worked for the Habs. Despite having the right players in the right places, the puck managed to bounce around and find Pavel Zacha on the off wing which surprised everyone including Price for a 4-1 Devils lead.
The following shift saw the first real push from the Habs as Kotkaniemi and Kenny Agostino completed a solid forecheck which gave Artturi Lehkonen a scoring chance that he rang off the post behind Kinkaid. This proved costly as since on the same shift, Tomas Tatar was called for closing his hand on the puck. The Devils used up close to their entire two-minute advantage before making the Habs pay. After a few more good saves by Price, Ouellet and Schlemko (they were really out there together) left the middle of the ice wide open as Zacha broke in and beat Price with a shot under the arm that Price would likely appreciate seeing again.
With three minutes left in the period, Zajac took a hooking penalty, but the Devils had no issues stopping the struggling Montreal power play to end the period.
The third started with both teams expectedly going through the motions, and unexpectedly Price still manning the crease in the Montreal end. I’m not placing even a small percentage of blame on Price for the night’s effort, but with such an effort and score in front of him, I may have opted for Antti Niemi in the third.
Regardless, the horrible night continued for Montreal as a strong play toward the net by Agostino resulted in Deslauriers cashing in the rebound. Why is this horrible you ask? Simply because the official ruled that the net had been pushed off its moorings prior to Deslauriers putting home the rebound. With a disallowed goal, the score remained 5-1.
The score also gave Claude Julien a chance to try many different line combinations throughout the period. Some were quite interesting as Kotkaniemi centred most of the period with Gallagher and Tatar on his flanks as Danault centred the third line with Lehkonen and Hudon.
For those seeking a silver lining on the night, there were actually a few. Firstly, the team responded with a better third period, even with the lines shuffled. Secondly, Price never gave up and made a few more solid saves in the third. Finally, Max Domi extended his personal point scoring streak a minute after the midway point in the period when his weak shot from the top of the slot hit a New Jersey defender and float over Kinkaid.
A few minutes later, a nice passing play by Jordie Benn and Shaw sent in Drouin on a breakaway. Drouin beat Kinkaid but nailed the post. Count the Agostino effort and the Drouin post, and the Habs were that close to making a game of this extremely poor opening 40 minutes. But it was not to be and the 5-2 final score was a fair representation of both teams’ effort.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Max Domi
Domi had a quiet night as did most of the offensive players. He did score to keep his streak alive and continue his impressive point producing start to the season. He also managed to end the night with an impressive +1 rating considering how poorly the team played around him.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 1 shot, 1 hit, 15:42 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jonathan Drouin
Statistically speaking, Drouin had a decent night with a couple of points. He was rather invisible when watching the game, which can mean that he wasn’t much of a factor offensively, or it means that like Domi, he was one of the few that took care of his defensive responsibilities. Then again, being on the line that plays with Benn and Petry means that he spent most of the night on the ice with the only competent defenders that were wearing white for this game. Regardless of one’s outlook, the two points are more than enough to earn him a star on this night.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 16:07 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jordie Benn
Much was made about Benn being a trainwreck on Monday night against the Capitals and this was the case. Benn was back in the same spot tonight and performed well. His performance was largely overshadowed by the rest of the blueline being a trainwreck. What’s important to keep in mind with Benn is that with Weber out, the Habs are asking a third pairing defender to take on the opposition’s best while playing more minutes than he’s accustomed to. Benn has responded with a respectable effort on most nights. This also means that he’ll likely get the assignment of Petry’s partner on the second pair once Petry is returned there.
Stats: 0 points, +2 (not a joke), 1 shot, 2 hits, 19:59 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Carey Price
Some fans will look at the final score and say that Price let in too many goals again, or that this could have potentially been a game that he steals instead of allowing five goals. My answer to that is that he made a long list of important saves. During his bad stretch a few weeks ago, he was allowing a high number of goals despite the team’s effort. Tonight, the team was lucky that he only allowed five goals, it could have been much worse.
Stats: 23 saves, 28 shots, .821 sv %, 5.00 G.A.A, 60:00 T.O.I.