The Habs latest attempt to stop the bleeding saw them host the New Jersey Devils at the Bell Centre. This is a game that went well above the two points on the line as the Habs had to find the win column to not find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture chasing other teams all season long.
Carey Price tried to regain his form as he returned to the crease to face MacKenzie Blackwood. On the blue line, Cale Fleury was sent to the press box in favour of Brett Kulak who played his off-side alongside Mike Reilly. The forward lines stayed the same in the top-six while Nick Cousins joined Joel Armia and Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the third line with Charles Hudon returning to the bottom unit with Nate Thompson and Jordan Weal.
It all represented too few changes as the Habs were once again atrocious defensively while they watched their star netminder have another difficult night. The effort was certainly there, but the result remained elusive as the Devils skated away with a 6-4 win. What an ugly month of November.
As expected, the Habs came out strong and forechecked New Jersey into submission for the first four minutes until Reilly took an unnecessary penalty for tripping. The Habs killed the penalty without allowing a scoring chance and appeared to keep the momentum until Ben Chiarot got over-aggressive on the forecheck. The result was a 2-on-1 that Shea Weber played poorly as Nikita Gusev slipped a pass under Weber to Blake Coleman for 1-0 lead.
The Habs stormed back as a chipped puck by Brendan Gallagher got through Blackwood only 22 seconds later to even the score. However, only 40 seconds later, the Devils scored again as Kulak was once again guilty of a bad pinch and Gusev chipped the puck over Reilly before Travis Zajac batted it out of the air to get it over Price to restore the lead.
The second half of the period started with a Jeff Petry holding penalty that the Habs were able to kill off once again. The rest of the period continued the sloppy defensive play as the teams exchanged some good scoring chances that forced Price and Blackwood to make good saves. For the Habs, Gallagher, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Tomas Tatar, and Victor Mete all fanned on good chances too. With 27 seconds to play, Jack Hughes was called for tripping. They did not score with the short power play but they outshot the Devils 18-11 in the period despite retreating to the locker room down 2-1.
The rest of the man advantage started the second period but the Habs still could not take advantage. Immediately following the penalty and before Hughes could get back in the play, Max Domi found Kotkaniemi in the middle of the slot where he fired one by Blackwood to tie the game on the Habs 21st shot of the game.
Less than two minutes later, Gallagher got caught deep in the offensive zone while his defence wass changing. This led to a Miles Wood breakaway as he opted for a shot that Price should have stopped but the puck made it through the five-hole for a 3-2 New Jersey lead.
The Habs would once again tie the game at the nine-minute mark as a Mete pass to Cousins goes off a Devils defender and bounces right to Armia who made no mistake with a precise low shot.
Unfortunately for Montreal, New Jersey wasted little time in regaining the lead at 11:28 when Jesper Boqvist put home a rebound after Weber decided to check air in front of Price.
There was a strong response in zone time for the Habs, but they couldn’t get one to the back of the net. With four minutes to play, Damon Severson took a tripping penalty that the Habs were unable to capitalize on so the game got to the intermission with a 4-3 lead for the Devils, but not before a diving glove save by Price in the final ten seconds of the period after yet another breakdown by his teammates in a final minute.
The top line set another positive tone to start the third period with an excellent first shift that saw Blackwood make an excellent save on Gallagher. Price responded in kind as Taylor Hall was stopped on a breakaway before the Devils pounced on two consecutive rebounds that were turned away by Price. Near the five-minute mark, Will Butcher got away with a high-stick to Armia that would have resulted in a four-minute power play since the sequence left Armia bloody.
With the Habs in complete control of the period, Mete got caught on a pinch that led to a 2-on-1. Kulak played it perfectly, but Severson beat Price on another weak goal to extend the lead.
Only 16 seconds later, Reilly joined the rush as he went all the way around the net before sending the puck out front where Lehkonen was stopped before jumping on his own rebound to once again reduce the lead. That’s as close as they would get though.
With four minutes left in the game, Armia took a neutral zone tripping penalty that they killed but limited their time to seek offence. Unfortunately, it was all for nought as the Devils were able to get to a loose puck and score in the empty net in the final minute as Zajac set up Blake Coleman on yet another odd-man rush.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Brendan Gallagher
There’s not a player in Montreal that plays with as much heart as Gallagher and tonight was no exception as Gallagher hit the ice and got five shots in the first period alone. The leader amongst the forwards was intense all game as the top line set the tone offensively while being mostly responsible defensively which is more than what can be said about the other forward lines.
Stats: 1 goal, -2, 7 shots, 3 hits, 16:17 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Starting last game against the Bruins, one could sense that his slump was nearing its end. From the second period on, Kotkaniemi was a strong player for the Habs with a power play goal, another post, and an assist on the Armia goal. All good signs for him as he can gain some confidence and we can see the young man from last season that made many Habs excited for the future of this franchise.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, -1, 1 shot, 3 hits, 13:42 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Shea Weber
Weber had a few questionable defensive decisions on this night but he continues to produce offensively. This game was no exception as he earned his 20th point on the season. That number places him seventh in the NHL for points amongst defencemen. Not too bad for a washed-up player.
Stats: 1 assist, -1, 5 shots, 2 hits, 25:31 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Artturi Lehkonen
Lehkonen had a second excellent game as he did all the things he usually does well while adding in some scoring. Now if only someone could teach him how to use his rocket of a wrist shot to actually hit the net.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 2 hits, 15:26 T.O.I.