The Habs were back in action on Tuesday after splitting the Super Bowl weekend afternoon games against the Panthers and Blue Jackets. They were travelling to New Jersey on this night trying to buck a recent trend of losing to teams like the Red Wings, Senators, and Devils. In fact, they were hoping to end a lengthy losing streak against the Devils of seven games.
While they did leave the rink with two points on the board thanks to a 5-4 shootout win, this was a game that reminded everyone why the Habs are where they are in the standings. It was an unacceptable effort against a subpar opponent that was saved by twenty minutes of hard work and the presence of a shootout against the oppositions backup goaltender.
The team was ravaged by the flu, so Charlie Lindgren got the start with Cayden Primeau on the bench. Victor Mete was also absent which meant that recently recalled Christian Folin dressed on the third defensive pairing next to Marco Scandella.
In what was an extremely boring start to the game, the Devils strategy was evident as they sought to bully their way to victory over the Canadiens. The strategy was mostly unsuccessful, but Nate Thompson was called for tripping six minutes into the contest. The Habs killed the penalty without much threat against Lindgren. The following shift saw Brendan Gallagher and Nick Suzuki creating a good chance in the offensive zone before play came back the other way and Miles Wood made Folin look like a player who hadn’t played an NHL game in a while. He beat him with speed going wide and was able to score from an impossible angle after Lindgren compounded Folin’s mistake by completely losing the proper angle on the shot.
The rest of the period consisted of the Habs remaining in their slumber with Lindgren making up for the first goal by bailing them out on a few occasions with solid saves. The first of these saves was a sliding effort to stop Nikita Gusev and a second came as Lindgren stood tall and stopped a Blake Coleman tip-in attempt.
The second didn’t start much better because Shea Weber was called for tripping only two minutes into the period. The Devils won the ensuing faceoff and a set play was prepared. Kyle Palmieri cheated down, got a pass, and quickly riffled one top-shelf short-side over Lindgren’s glove.
Before play resumed, Dale Weise tried to wake up the team by dropping the mitts with John Hayden. Luckily for Weise, neither players got much punches in though the fight didn’t really wake up the Canadiens either.
Five minutes into the period, Artturi Lehkonen was called for tripping after a Wood dive. Armia got a shorthanded breakaway though which resulted in the power play being negated. The Devils once again got to Lindgren at 4-on-4 when the end of a tic-tac-toe play saw Jesper Bratt fan on a shot. However, Lindgren once again overplayed the sequence and ended up way out of position so that fanned shot trickled home for a third goal on just 13 shots.
With seven minutes to play, Kevin Rooney and Nick Cousins dropped the mitts after Max Domi was called for a rather stupid slashing penalty. During the penalty kill, Armia intercepted a Palmieri play in the neutral zone, came in on a breakaway, and scored shorthanded to cut the lead to 3-1.
This goal completely shifted momentum as the Habs completely dominated the rest of the second period. Nate Thompson was then made to look like Connor McDavid by Will Butcher. Thompson grabbed the puck in the neutral zone before he skated wide and drove the net with Butcher weakly attempting a stick-check on Thompson and the veteran beat Louis Domingue easily. This made the score 3-2 after Thompson scored with only three minutes to play in the period.
Julien started the third with new line combos as Nick Suzuki was centring Armia and Lehkonen while Domi was centring Ilya Kovalchuk and Cousins. Joey Anderson was called for high-sticking only two minutes in. The Habs power play did not generate much offensively despite significant zone time.
Nick Suzuki hit the post seven minutes into the period after some strong puck play by Lehkonen and Armia. On the next shift, Domi attacked the offensive zone with speed which created confusion for the Devils. Brett Kulak took advantage to join the rush. He grabbed the rebound and completed a nice pass to the front of the net where Cousins fired it home to tie the game with 12:36 to play.
As the midway point of the period drew near, the Danault line absolutely dominated a shift. After near a minute of intense pressure in the offensive zone, the puck found itself on Folin’s stick who had a sea of players in front of him. He kept the play simple with a low and controlled shot that was ultimately tipped home by a Devils player to give Montreal their first lead of the night.
Credit to the Habs as they actually waited until the last five minutes before falling back and defending the lead. Unfortunately, this defensive play was not enough. After the team took a too many men penalty with just over a minute to play, Palmieri was able to tie the game with only 20 seconds left in the entire game.
The overtime was full of speed and attacks, but nothing that really threated the goaltenders. The game made it to a shootout where Lindgren stopped all three shots allowing for the Kovalchuk goal to stand as the game-winner.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Joel Armia
Armia was one of the only players on the entire team that was present in the first half of the game. He was also responsible for the goal that turned the tide. His forechecking pressure created numerous chances for the team, one of which he scored on.
Stats: 1 goal, +2, 3 shots, 3 hits, 18:20 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Nick Cousins
Cousins scored an all-important goal to tie the game. He was also physical all night and even played the role of the agitator for much of the night. Then, once the Habs were in the lead in the third, he completed a few strong defensive plays to make his mark felt all over this contest.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 4 hits, 16:00 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Nate Thompson
This game was an NHL’s plumber’s dream as both teams dressed so many depth players with stars unable to go on this night. Thompson filled that role adequately with some strong faceoff play and just overall puck management all over the ice. Of course, add in the ridiculous offensive effort on his goal and a star was logical in this case!
Stats: 1 goal, +2, 4 shots, 2 hits, 10:05 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Charlie Lindgren
Lindgren resembles the Habs in many ways. There is no denying the work ethic in his game. He also makes these incredible saves that are awe-inspiring and that are candy to NHL fans. This same goaltender is also guilty of overplaying pucks and allowing terrible goals in the same game. This was a game like this as Lindgren made saves he had no business making but then allowed some weak goals on the night.
Stats: 20 saves, 24 shots, .833 save %, 3.69 GAA, 65:00 TOI.