The Habs looked to get back in the win column as they were in New Jersey on Thursday night to take on the Devils. Montreal benefitted from some bad goaltending from New Jersey as they hit a season-high in goals on the way to a 7-4 victory.
Martin St. Louis opted to make a trio of lineup changes for this one. Tyler Pitlick drew in for the injured Paul Byron and played on the fourth line (with Brendan Gallagher moving up a line) while Chris Wideman did the same for Justin Barron. Meanwhile, Kale Clague played in his first game in nearly a month, taking the place of Jordan Harris who was a surprising healthy scratch; Clague and Wideman comprised the third pairing.
It was a fairly quiet start with neither team pushing much in the first few minutes. However, the Canadiens were able to get on the board with their first good chance as at 4:35, Cole Caufield fed a pass to Rem Pitlick on the left side and he quickly threaded a cross-ice feed to Nick Suzuki who was able to beat Andrew Hammond to open up the scoring.
Just over two minutes later, Corey Schueneman joined in a puck battle down low so Jake Evans did the responsible thing and covered Schueneman’s spot at the point. It worked out quite well as the blueliner won the battle and got the puck to Evans at the point. Evans then surprisingly fired a rare slapshot from the point that beat Hammond clean to double Montreal’s lead.
New Jersey wasted little time in getting that one back as on the next shift, Dawson Mercer got the puck in the corner, turned, and sent a well-placed pass to Tomas Tatar in the slot; the former Hab one-timed it past Jake Allen to get the Devils on the board. A minute later, it was a nervous moment for Allen as a relatively harmless shot seemed to fool him; he thought he had it covered but didn’t and ultimately had to dive to find it.
After that, things settled down as the play resembled the opening few minutes with some timidity and not a lot going on. But with just over six minutes left, Suzuki spotted Caufield up ice and sent a pass from his own zone that sprung the winger for a breakaway. He skated in and beat Hammond glove-side to give the Habs their two-goal advantage back. New Jersey controlled the final few minutes but Montreal kept them to the outside so they couldn’t generate much. The Canadiens went to the room up two despite being outshot 12-8.
The Devils carried over their strong finish to the second period. On the opening shift, Jesper Bratt was robbed by the pad of Allen while on the next shift, Tatar was open again in the slot although this time, his one-timer went wide. Two minutes later, Nico Hischier went in on a two-on-one with Bratt but after Hischier got the pass across, Bratt wasn’t able to get a shot off. Two minutes after that, some poor defensive play in transition from Mike Hoffman allowed Dougie Hamilton to get a good chance on a three-on-two that was once again stopped.
New Jersey then got the first power play of the game when Clague was called for high-sticking Michael McLeod a minute later. Hischier missed the net on a mini three-on-one chance which was their best scoring chance with the man advantage.
With eight and a half minutes left, Janne Kuokkanen got through Montreal’s defenders and was in on a breakaway but Allen again made the stop. If you’re wondering why there hasn’t been any Canadiens discussion to this point, they were being outshot 10-1 at this point of the period; there simply wasn’t anything to cover. A minute and a half later, the Suzuki line at least had some extended zone time.
Eventually, the Devils were rewarded for their efforts. A.J. Greer attempted a wraparound on Allen with five minutes to go and while it wasn’t perfectly executed, he was able to elevate the puck, banking it off the back of Allen’s mask and in.
The Habs were able to counter that goal quickly as just 80 seconds later, Joel Armia was able to corral a poor pass from Wideman at the point, spun around, and fired a heavy wrister that Hammond basically ducked out of the way of as it went just below the crossbar and in to restore the two-goal advantage. Suzuki was nearly sprung for a breakaway in the dying seconds of the period but the play was broken up. The buzzer sounded with it still being a two-goal game despite New Jersey dominating for long stretches of the period, helping them to a 15-7 shot advantage.
Montreal came out much stronger in the third. Just 70 seconds in, Wideman’s point shot dribbled across the ice, caught the skate of P.K. Subban, and squeaked past Hammond. 24 seconds later, Wideman sprung Dvorak on a breakaway with a very similar pass to the one Suzuki used on Caufield’s goal in the first period. The end result was the same as Dvorak beat Hammond to make it 6-2, ending Hammond’s night in the process as the former Hab allowed six goals on just 19 shots. Nico Daws took over the rest of the way.
The goalie change gave New Jersey a quick spark as just 19 seconds after Dvorak’s goal, the Devils got it back as Ty Smith snuck a weak wrister through Schueneman and it squeaked past Allen to make it 6-3. New Jersey got another chance with the man advantage two minutes later when Gallagher was called for a trip on Andreas Johnsson but they couldn’t get anything going.
A minute after the penalty ended, Smith made a nice defensive play on Ryan Poehling as Poehling was going for the wraparound and had Daws down and out but the New Jersey blueliner blocked the shot. (The play may have been offside anyway but it was still a good opportunity from that line which really struggled overall in this one.)
With just under nine minutes to go, Tatar’s shot from the slot trickled wide but went right to Bratt at the side of the goal and he lifted it past Allen to once again make it a two-goal game.
That’s as close as New Jersey got, however. Just over two minutes after Bratt’s goal, the Habs got it back. Dvorak opted to curl back on a two-on-one with Alexander Romanov instead of trying to force a pass through. He was rewarded for his patience as the puck got to Clague on the other side of the ice and he snuck one high short-side on Daws, yet another weak goal for the Devils to allow.
That took the wind out of New Jersey’s sails as they didn’t muster up much the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Rem Pitlick caught the post with four and a half minutes left and Evans forced a Smith giveaway at centre ice a minute later but his breakaway was stopped by Daws. In the end, the Habs skated away with the 7-4 victory despite being outshot 37-26 on the night. It was Montreal’s first regulation victory over the Devils since January 20, 2017, spanning a dozen games.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Christian Dvorak – If I had to use a word to describe Dvorak for this game, I’d use efficient. He wasn’t flashy and didn’t even play all that much but he made a lot of good, subtle plays and a lot of correct decisions. The end result was his second three-point game of the season.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, +2 rating, 2 shots, 7/15 faceoffs, 14:47 TOI
2nd Star: Cole Caufield – There were a lot of points in this game where Montreal’s personnel weren’t particularly noticeable; they were just stuck in their own end a lot. That wasn’t the case when Caufield was on the ice. He was dangerous whenever the puck was on his stick even if most of his opportunities didn’t even result in a shot on goal. Considering where he was just a few months ago, this turnaround is rather remarkable.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1 rating, 3 shots, 14:35 TOI
3rd Star: Chris Wideman – I don’t think any defenceman played all that great in his own end but Wideman continued his strong offensive stretch with a three-point game after sitting for two straight. He now has 12 points in his last 11 games which is something I don’t think anyone saw coming. He’s helping his chances of getting another NHL contract for next season.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, +2 rating, 2 shots, 17:07 TOI
Honourable Mention: Kale Clague – I could go with Nick Suzuki here but it’s not often I can make a case for Clague. Again, he wasn’t great in his own end but after sitting for nearly a month (including basically being a healthy scratch the last couple of weeks), he comes in and picks up three points. Some of the points were lucky but that’s an impressive result after being off for a month.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, +3 rating, 2 PIMS, 1 shot, 4 hits, 18:49 TOI