The Habs have struggled against the Devils this season. New Jersey won the first contest easily on November 21st before Montreal lost a game that they dominated thanks in large part to a weak performance from Antti Niemi on February 2nd.
This one had a much different feel on the heels of the trade deadline festivities around the league. The Habs were relatively inactive on this day, acquiring Jordan Weal for Michael Chaput. The Devils were sellers as they shipped off Marcus Johansson to Boston for two picks, goaltender Keith Kinkaid went to Columbus for a 5th round selection, and finally, Ben Lovejoy was dealt to Dallas in exchange for Connor Carrick and a third-round pick over the weekend.
On the ice, Jonathan Drouin returned to action after missing Saturday’s game which meant that Nicolas Deslauriers returned to the press box. The goaltending matchup featured Carey Price and Cory Schneider. All these changes meant both teams were predictably out of sync, but it changed little in terms of results as the Habs lost this rather boring game by a 2-1 score.
The game kicked off on the wrong foot as Shea Weber and Victor Mete were caught completely out of position on the very first shift which gave the Devils a breakaway. Mete did a nice job of backchecking to force a quick shot on goal that Price stopped but it was a sign of things to come. Overall, it was a sloppy period by both teams as passes went flying all over the ice without any precision.
Before the five-minute mark had expired, Weber was beaten by speed once again and Price was there to bail out the captain. Andrew Shaw tried to get the team going but ended up taking a selfish offensive zone penalty behind the play when he punched Kyle Palmieri. Artturi Lehkonen got the best chance of the sequence as he skated to a shorthanded breakaway that Schneider handled.
Then the official called a softie on Michael McLeod to send the Habs to the power play that would prove to be ineffective. With 7:25 left in the period, Weber lost a battle down low and then lost the race to the front of the net. It was young Nathan Bastian beating Weber twice and then tipping home the Carrick point shot for his first NHL goal to open the scoring.
The rest of the period remained sloppy and was filled with incohesive play by both sides as the Habs finished the period ahead 12-10 in shots on goal. The lone bright spots were Price and Phillip Danault’s faceoff prowess as he was at 75% compared to the rest of the team which was at 30% after the first.
The Habs tried to get better in the second with a strong first shift. Unfortunately, they immediately returned to their sleepy state after that. Not even three minutes into the period, Mete lost control of a dump-in and then the ensuing battle. The puck returned to Carrick who once again opted for the simple shot. Carrick’s shot was deflected by Kurtis Gabriel who once again got ahead of Weber and Mete with speed to get to his own rebound and extend the lead.
This second goal finally got the Habs going as the top two lines really started to skate. This was halted when Gabriel took an interference penalty. After another ineffective power play, frustration started to show for the Habs. Domi took a stupid penalty by hitting Travis Zajac high. Then the Habs got lucky because Nate Thompson likely deserved a tripping minor while killing the first penalty.
The return to even-strength play was marked by a 2-on-1 for the Habs, but Jordie Benn opted for the shot while trying to hurt Schneider through his chest protector. Finally, in the final moments of the period, Brendan Gallagher took a penalty for tripping. On a usual night, this seemed selfish. Considering the game, it appeared as though Gallagher attempted to create offence for his team and had his stick in the wrong place at the wrong time.
New Jersey’s power play was once again ineffective until Benn got accidentally speared by Weber. This left Benn on the ice gasping for air and created even more space for the Devils who couldn’t solve a stellar Price. The Habs won the period 14-6 in shots even though the Devils had the better scoring chances in the period. Montreal had more shots again, winning the period 14-6 in that department. However, those numbers are not indicative of a team that can communicate and complete passes to one another as the Habs were shooting everywhere and anywhere to get bloated numbers like that.
The Habs started the third with 40 seconds of penalty kill time that they succeeded in killing. On the next shift, Devils took a tripping penalty which meant yet another disastrous power play for Montreal.
If Marc Bergevin mentioned that the problem was with the current players, this man advantage was a perfect example. They committed to the right plays and opened the shooting lanes. All that remained was that the final pass to create a scoring chance yet it never happened so the one-timer would not come and the weak shot that followed provided little trouble for Schneider.
With a little more than five minutes expired, Lehkonen was called for elbowing. The Habs remained effective on the penalty kill as Paul Byron picked the pocket of the Devils defender to skate away on a breakaway and beat Schneider to cut the lead in half.
The goal got the Habs going as they skated all over the Devils for the last 12 minutes of the game. This caused a Nico Hischier hooking penalty where the power play finally looked dangerous as Gallagher got a shot past Schneider that trickled just wide as the netminder got enough of the puck to stop Gallagher. The Habs pulled Price with a little over a minute to play but never came close to the Devils net.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Paul Byron
Rather invisible for most of the night, Byron was able to use his strongest asset to at least get the team on the board. Is there a player on this roster that can shine in any and every situation he gets thrown into? The Swiss Army Knife was at it again on this night, but he better stay sharp because he’s likely to see some new linemates after such a poor team effort.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 1 shot, 13:38 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jeff Petry
While the rest of the defencemen were horrific in this game, Petry continued his excellent season as he played physical in his defensive zone. He also has the skill to get the puck out of his own end in a variety of ways, and the presence of mind to help offensively when the opportunity presents itself. Petry has been stellar and was again, so much so that fans don’t realize often how much of a mess Mike Reilly has been of late.
Stats: 0 points, 0(+/-), 3 shots, 23:21 T.O.
3rd Star – Carey Price
Price wasn’t stellar but he was present and making saves to keep the team in the odd time the Devils were dangerous. With the way the team played on this night, it’s good enough for the third star.
Stats: 20 saves, 22 shots, .909 save %, 2.05 G.A.A., 58:29 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Brendan Gallagher
Even when the team was asleep, Gallagher continued to work and tried to create offensively. On this night, some jam was lacking even for him, but at least the effort was there. That’s more than you can say about many on the team.
Stats: 0 points, 0(+/-), 3 shots, 2 hits, 18:27 T.O.I