After a long rest, the Habs looked exactly like they did before the All-Star break. They got off to a slow start and never recovered on Tuesday night, falling 7-1 to New Jersey.
Montreal’s lineup looked a little different coming out of the break as both Joel Armia and Cole Caufield returned from COVID protocol and were placed on the fourth line alongside Ryan Poehling. Michael Pezzetta and Rem Pitlick were the ones to come out of the lineup as a result. On the back end, Ben Chiarot lined up on his off-side along with Alexander Romanov in an effort to provide a bit more balance in the top four (or showcase him for a trade, either option is believable at this point).
After the rest, Dominique Ducharme had to be hoping that his team would come out better than they had been before the All-Star break. Yeah, that didn’t happen and before the game was two minutes old, New Jersey had a two-on-one break but Michael McLeod’s shot went wide.
Not even three minutes later, the Devils got on the board. Ryan Graves rang a shot off the post off pf a won draw and Montreal’s defence started to scramble. New Jersey maintained possession and worked the puck back to Graves. His point shot was stopped by Cayden Primeau but he left a juicy rebound. McLeod got in behind Jeff Petry and potted it home with Petry opting to shove McLeod into Primeau after the goal, compounding his defensive mistake with a bad decision.
The Habs didn’t exactly wake up after this. For nearly the next eight minutes, their best shot was a weak knuckler from Jake Evans and the only reason it was their best one was that it was their only one. The Canadiens eventually had a couple of decent shifts in terms of zone time but couldn’t muster up much.
Montreal looked to have a great chance to tie it up just past the 13-minute mark when they came in on a 3-on-1. Caufield carried the puck in, kept it (which looked like the right decision), and then missed the net completely. To his credit, he hustled back defensively and broke up a centring pass that would have led to a Grade ‘A’ chance for the Devils.
However, it wasn’t much longer before the road side doubled their advantage. Jesper Boqvist skated in on the left wing and dropped a pass back into space where Dawson Mercer was able to corral it and he snapped it past Primeau. Neither side mustered up much in the final four minutes and the teams went to the dressing room with the Canadiens down 2-0 on the scoreboard and 11-5 on the shot clock.
Montreal got off to a good start to the second, generating an early two-on-one just past the two-minute mark. Armia found Ryan Poehling with a well-placed pass but Poehling’s shot caught the blocker of Jon Gillies. The top line had a good shift after that with Artturi Lehkonen batting one that got past Gillies but caught the crossbar and stayed out.
They were eventually rewarded for their efforts three minutes later as after they misfired on a three-on-two, the puck was worked back to the point where Brett Kulak sent one through a screen and past Gillies to get the Habs on the board.
Barely 30 seconds later, Alexander Romanov had a bad giveaway at centre ice right to Jesper Bratt. He skated in on a breakaway but Primeau stretched out the pad to make the stop. Less than a minute after that, Nathan Bastian was called for tripping, sending the Canadiens to their first power play of the night. Mike Hoffman found Ryan Poehling with a pass in transition but it was redirected over Gillies and was basically their only real opportunity.
That came back to hurt them as seconds after the power play ended, Mercer threaded a cross-ice feed to Nico Hischier and the captain beat Primeau who wasn’t exactly sharp in terms of his form as he went cross-crease to try to stop it.
Seconds later, Nick Suzuki drew an interference penalty on Damon Severson, giving Montreal a chance to get that goal back quickly. They had a couple of decent point shots but not much more.
To their credit, the Habs had several good shifts after the power play with Laurent Dauphin and Tyler Toffoli getting good slot shots. Soon after that, Poehling received another pass on the rush and made a nifty play to send it over to Caufield who was driving the net. Caufield didn’t get much of a shot off but there was a good reason for it as P.K. Subban was called for hooking on the play. However, the Habs did nothing with that man advantage and after it ended, New Jersey had a three-on-one but Chris Wideman did well to break it up.
Unfortunately for the Canadiens, they couldn’t finish the period strong. After getting caught on an icing, a tired group of Habs were running around in their own end. Boqvist was able to get the puck at the point, took a couple of strides towards the middle, and put one through a well-placed screen that Primeau didn’t even see let alone have a chance on.
That was with barely a minute to go and Montreal couldn’t even get through the final minute without more trouble. Suzuki lost a defensive zone draw and the puck got back to Graves. His point shot was stopped by Primeau but the rebound kicked out to McLeod who had an open net for his second of the night after Chiarot lost him in coverage.
For 18 minutes or so, the Habs played a pretty good and entertaining middle stanza. But in the end, they had nothing to show four it as they were now down by four despite holding a 16-13 shot advantage in the period.
Things didn’t look much better in the third. Petry took an interference penalty on Boqvist three minutes in. New Jersey doesn’t have a good power play but it looked pretty good on this one as they needed just 17 seconds to score as Pavel Zacha wristed one past Primeau short-side. There was a screen on the play but Primeau didn’t look good at all playing it.
Montreal didn’t muster up much after that as both teams were playing things out without much of the way of intensity. That lack of intensity came back to bite Petry again as his horrific night continued. Just before the midway point of the period, Tomas Tatar sent the puck behind the net. Zacha got to it first and Petry made a feeble attempt to try to get the puck. Instead, Zacha found Tatar who was hustling towards the net and he tapped it home for his first point in 12 games.
The Devils then went back to the power play as Wideman was called for slashing. This time, they didn’t do much as the Habs killed it off without much issue. Evans had a decent look after it as he drove the net but couldn’t muster up much of a shot. A hit from Tatar on Suzuki with a little over five minutes left briefly drew Hoffman’s attention but when Tatar offered to drop the gloves, Hoffman shied away. That’s a fitting way to end this game summary.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Ryan Poehling – With Christian Dvorak set to return, Poehling played like a player who felt his spot on the roster was on the line. He had multiple quality chances and most importantly, played with some pep in his step. Poehling has a tendency to float and in a game that had a lot of floaters from Montreal’s side, his hustle stood out in a good way.
Stats: 1 assist, -1 rating, 2 shots, 2 takeaways, 3/9 faceoffs, 14:50 TOI
2nd Star: Cole Caufield – I don’t like that he was on the fourth line but he had a pretty good game. He was one of a small group of Montreal players on the happy side of the scoring chance ledger and he was aggressive in hunting down his shots. There are only so many ways to say that eventually, one’s going to go in but he isn’t shying away from shooting like many in a slump like he’s in would.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 4 shots, 15:28 TOI
3rd Star: Chris Wideman – In a game where Montreal’s veterans struggled mightily, Wideman was one of their steadier performers defensively. I’m still perplexed by his limited usage on the power play considering that’s his one area of strength but he had a decent game in his own end which should help as there will be scouts looking at him on teams looking to add depth but have minimal cap space to speak of.
Stats: -1 rating, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 3 blocks, 15:17 TOI
Honourable Mention: Joel Armia – While he was barely noticeable in the third period, Armia played quite well in the opening 40 minutes. It wasn’t because there were plenty of board battles but he showed some chemistry with Caufield and Poehling and was more aggressive offensively than usual. I won’t go as far as calling it a game that builds some confidence – it can’t be that in a 7-1 loss – but it’s a small step in the right direction for him.
Stats: 1 assist, -2 rating, 1 hit, 13:12 TOI