After a tough loss in Toronto on Saturday, the Habs continued their road trip on Tuesday with a visit to New Jersey. They were outshot and outchanced by a significant margin but in the end, goaltending was the difference as Montreal picked up the 5-2 win.
Martin St. Louis didn’t make any changes to his skaters for this one as, well, he couldn’t. Chris Wideman was injured at the Skills Competition on Sunday and the Habs are only carrying 18 healthy skaters on the trip. (With Laval off until Friday, this was a curious decision.) Montreal, did, however, change up the lines from the loss to Toronto with the team lining up as follows:
Harvey-Pinard – Suzuki – Anderson
Hoffman – Drouin – Armia
Pitlick – Dvorak – Dadonov
Pezzetta – Belzile – Ylonen
Matheson – Barron
Schueneman – Savard
Harris – Kovacevic
The Canadiens wasted little time getting a scoring chance as just seconds in, the Devils turned it over in the neutral zone and a quick transition play led to a rush chance for Josh Anderson that was stopped. Two minutes later, Michael Pezzetta got a good tip on goal following a centring feed from Evgenii Dadonov but Vitek Vanecek made the stop.
However, just before the four-minute mark, the Habs got on the board. Rafael Harvey-Pinard gained the zone on the left side and dropped a pass for Nick Suzuki. The captain sent a cross-ice feed to Justin Barron whose shot from the point beat Vanecek clean to open up the scoring. This is now six straight games that the Canadiens have scored first.
New Jersey eventually found their skating legs and started to take control as the game reached the midway point. With nine minutes to go, Erik Haula was behind the Montreal goal and sent a feed out front for Ondrej Palat. The veteran was left all alone following a defensive breakdown but Samuel Montembeault got a pad on it.
Less than three minutes later though, the Devils got on the board. Jack Hughes was left open in the neutral zone, giving him time to find Jesper Bratt who had found the soft spot in Montreal’s defence. He attacked with speed and fired a shot from the top of the faceoff circle past Montembeault to tie it up.
Anderson got another prime scoring opportunity late in the period. With a minute and a half left, Harvey-Pinard was behind the net and sent a quick feed to Anderson in front (on a play similar to the one Palat didn’t capitalize on earlier). The winger got off a quick one-timer but Vanecek was square to the shot to make the stop and ensure that the game would be tied after 20 minutes. Shots on the goal in the first were 11-8 for New Jersey.
The second saw the Habs get off to a quick start once again. Less than two minutes in, the top line went in on a three-on-two. Harvey-Pinard tried to send it to Suzuki in the middle but Suzuki deftly tapped it back to the rookie whose shot went just wide.
However, Montreal was able to capitalize on the next shift. Jesse Ylonen gain the zone with speed on the left side and sent a feed to the middle for a pinching Johnathan Kovacevic. Another pass to a soft spot for a defender and another goal as he fired home his second of the season.
Just 21 seconds later, Montembeault had to be sharp as Miles Wood was sprung on a breakaway but the netminder kept it out. That proved to be critical as less than a minute later, the Canadiens got on the board again. Corey Schueneman had a strong zone denial at his own blue line, sending the puck ahead to Mike Hoffman at the same time. He sent a quick feed to Suzuki on his off-wing and the captain wristed one home to double the lead. All this before the four-minute mark.
Four minutes later, New Jersey got the first power play of the game as Christian Dvorak was sent off for holding Tomas Tatar on a net drive. The Devils had some sustained pressure but the penalty killers and Montembeault held strong and were able to kill it off. A little over a minute after Dvorak’s penalty ended, he then drew a holding call on Brendan Smith. Montreal’s power play had some sustained zone time but frankly, they didn’t do much of anything with it.
Smith was then sprung for a breakaway as he got out of the box on a bad luck play with Barron’s stick breaking at the offensive blue line. Montembeault was forced to make another key stop once more, losing his own stick in the process. New Jersey picked up the pressure from there but couldn’t cut down the deficit as the Habs took a two-goal lead to the room despite being outshot 14-4 in the period.
Partway through the second, the Habs announced that Joel Armia’s night had come to an early conclusion. He wasn’t feeling well which made the decision to not carry any extra skaters on the trip even more puzzling.
The third got off to a nice start as well as Harvey-Pinard was held by Mercer less than a minute in, sending Montreal back to the power play. They didn’t do much of anything with it and then Jonathan Drouin tripped up Yegor Sharangovich to try to break up a scoring chance before the midway point of the advantage. Sharangovich still got off a good shot as well.
During the four-on-four, Rem Pitlick came in on the left side and found Anderson hustling down the middle of the ice but Vanecek was there to make the stop. Then, as Mercer’s penalty ended, a long pass sent him on a breakaway but once again, Montembeault made the save on New Jersey’s second opportunity like that of the game. The Devils threatened on the short power play but couldn’t score.
That was crucial as two minutes later, Montreal forced a turnover in the attacking zone which led to a nice passing play – Dvorak to Dadonov to Dvorak to Dadonov to Pitlick who had Vanecek down and out and made no mistake to make it 4-1 and give the Canadiens some breathing room.
Just past the midway mark, Barron was sent off for holding Nico Hischier. This time, the power play made them pay. Montembeault made a pair of stops but kicked out the rebound each time and the second one went right to Mercer who was able to bury it to make it a two-goal game.
A minute later, Dvorak went up the left side and found Dvorak in transition in the middle of the ice. He tried to out wait Vanecek but couldn’t beat him. This play was one the Habs clearly identified as a weak spot in coverage as they generated quite a few of their top chances on sequences like this one throughout the evening. Just 30 seconds after that, Jonas Siegenthaler rang one off the post off of a won draw in the attacking zone.
Lindy Ruff pulled Vanecek with nearly four minutes remaining in an aggressive move. It didn’t work out as just seconds later, Dvorak won a defensive zone draw right to Mike Matheson and the blueliner quickly fired it down the ice into the empty net to finish New Jersey off. Shots on goal in the final frame were 14-6 for the Devils.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Samuel Montembeault – While you read plenty about Montreal’s exploits in this one, it could have been a much different game had it not been for Montembeault. Let’s put it bluntly, the Habs were outplayed quite a bit in this one but the Canadiens got top-level goaltending and the Devils got nowhere near that level. That was the difference as Montembeault helped to steal two points.
Stats: 37 saves on 39 shots, 2.00 GAA, .949 SV%
2nd Star: Nick Suzuki – The captain has been particularly quiet lately without his top running mate in Cole Caufield. However, the new top line with him, Anderson, and Harvey-Pinard have made some strides as of late and this was Montreal’s top trio by a considerable margin. Suzuki picked up the winner, set up another goal, and helped set up some other chances as well while being the only Montreal centre on the happy side of 50% at the faceoff dot.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating, 2 hits, 8/15 faceoffs, 19:27 TOI
3rd Star: Josh Anderson – New Jersey has been a speculative suitor for Anderson for a while now and he certainly made a positive impression even without hitting the scoresheet. He generated several high-end scoring chances and used his speed effectively. Even in a quiet outing from a points perspective, he had a big impact in this one.
Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 5 shots, 18:19 TOI
Honourable Mention: Justin Barron – Rafael Harvey-Pinard easily could have gone here too but considering three defencemen scored in this one, one of them should get the nod. Barron made some good reads on when to pinch and when not to and was rewarded for his efforts with the opening goal. He wasn’t flashy but they’ll take a fairly stable showing from him defensively any night as that’s the side of his game that needs the most improvement.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 17:22 TOI