HabsWorld.net -- 

The Habs played a rare Sunday contest as they travelled to the Prudential Center in New Jersey to face the Devils. This was an interesting contest on many fronts as injuries opened some doors up front, a recently acquired highly-touted defenceman made his Habs debut while the team opted to play the current backup as it was the second game in as many nights.

Most of the lines remained intact from Saturday’s night victory, but injuries to both Michael Pezzetta and Tyler Pitlick meant that Laurent Dauphin was joined by Mathieu Perreault and Jesse Ylonen on his wings. The situation was similar on the blue line as the top and bottom pair remained while William Lagesson was replaced by Justin Barron. Samuel Montembeault was in net as he faced Nico Daws.

In a game that lacked structure from beginning to end, Montreal once again showed resiliency only to lose 3-2 in a long shootout to end the game.

The first period kicked off with a Nick Suzuki scoring chance that forced Daws to make an early save. After that, the entire period could easily be described by two terms as both teams were physically intense but mentally sloppy. This meant that play went up and down the ice with great speed but passes lacked precision and plays were not completed properly even when the passes were made. This was true for both teams, so the result was a weird mix of quick counterattacks that never amounted to many scoring chances. Young Barron looked nervous in his first few shifts, but he settled down afterwards.

A lob play was successful for Josh Anderson who could not control a bouncing puck on his breakaway allowing Daws to make a relatively easy stop. Montembeault made a better stop moments later when the Devils used the stretch pass to give Jesper Bratt his own breakaway.

The second half of the period saw the same pace and execution as the start of the period, but New Jersey really took over in terms of controlling the pace of play. Bratt and Jack Hughes in particular were really the two best players on the ice as Montembeault had to stand tall to keep the Habs in the period.

Montreal’s best push came with a rare fourth line shift when Dauphin and Ylonen controlled a shift and got a bit of momentum back. As the Canadiens appeared poised to escape the subpar period unscathed, Montembeault faltered. With 43 seconds left, the puck made its way to the netminder who should have simply given the puck to Alexander Romanov. Instead, he tried to make a pass, whiffed on it, and saw the puck land directly onto the stick of Hughes in the high slot. Hughes made no mistake with the gift and lodged the puck over Montembeault’s shoulder to open the game’s scoring. A deserved 1-0 lead as the Devils outshot the Canadiens 13-8 in the period and it was indicative of the play on the ice.

The second period started off much like the first as both teams were intense and fast on the forecheck while lacking completely in their ability to focus and get the passes where they needed to be. Credit where it’s due, both teams had played the night before and both teams were trying to take advantage of their opponent’s fatigue.

Dawson Mercer got a scoring chance early in the period that Montembeault stopped, so it was nice to see the young netminder bounce back after his giveaway to end the first. A Montreal 3-on-1 saw Anderson make a terrible pass that ended the threat. Just before the midway point of the period, the first penalty was called as New Jersey got caught with too many men on the ice.

The second half of the game started with an atrocious Canadiens man advantage. The Habs’ complete lack of moving their feet on the advantage made it quite easy for the Devils to defend, attack Montreal’s offensive chances, and win the puck battles to clear their zone.

As the penalty ended, Anderson was called for an offensive zone trip which was really not good as that entire line had struggled so far in this contest. The Devils took a minute to set up their power play, but once they did, the Canadiens seemed powerless to the eventual outcome. Bratt was eventually able to find Hughes through a crowd as Hughes put home his second of the game.

Moments later, Miles Wood (making his season debut after missing the whole season so far due to hip surgery) caught Joel Edmundson with a high-stick and the Habs returned to the power play. After another minute of a totally inept advantage, Jonas Siegenthaler decided to hit Cole Caufield with the puck nowhere near the Canadiens forward. The play drew a crowd and the Habs were quite lucky that the only penalty called was the initial interference.

The coaches opted for a five-forward power play as the Habs got a 5-on-3 opportunity. Daws’s only important save on the sequence came when Christian Dvorak found Suzuki cross-ice, but Daws came across to keep the Habs off the board. Back to 5-on-4, Montreal had used a large portion of the forwards. This left Wideman to set up Ylonen one-timers. His second such attempt was heading wide before Anderson was able to redirect it and get the Habs on the board. This goal was officially scored the second after the last Devils’ penalty expired, even if it really wasn’t an even-strength goal.

Mike Hoffman kicked off the third period by taking a penalty for tripping in the defensive zone. Romanov came through with a huge shift to kill the penalty. As the penalty was expiring, a frustrated Dougie Hamilton ran a blatant interference on Jake Evans to send the Canadiens back on the man advantage. In the image of their night, the Suzuki and Caufield unit was sloppy and ineffective. The second unit got some good looks but were unable to capitalize. Wood then plastered Suzuki with a strong open-ice hit that drew the ire of Wideman. No penalties were called on the play, and even if words were shared from both sides, I don’t think either Wood or Wideman deserved a penalty on the sequence.

The final ten minutes of regulation started with a Jimmy Vesey breakaway where Montembeault flashed some leather to keep the Habs within striking distance. Then Mercer was called for slashing and Ruff really didn’t like that call. The power play was once again terrible and though the Canadiens had the puck on their sticks, the Devils appeared in perfect control, poised to skate their way to an easy win as the opposition refused to attack the centre of the ice.

In the last minute of play and Montembeault finally on the bench, New Jersey won another puck battle and fired the puck toward the empty net. They missed and the result was an icing call. After a Montreal timeout, Wideman gave the puck away at the offensive blue line but Suzuki was able to keep it alive. Caufield sent the puck toward the net without looking where Dvorak was able to get the puck in the low slot. Dvorak had no space to manoeuvre, so he sent the puck cross-crease where Rem Pitlick was waiting to tie the game with only 42 seconds to play in regulation.

The overtime was wild as the Habs started with Suzuki, Caufield, and Barron! While that shift was relatively quiet, the next shift for Suzuki and Caufield came with Wideman and wasn’t so great. The trio got lucky because Bratt hit the post on his scoring chance.

On the next shift, Hoffman came down the ice and beat Daws but hit both posts. Everyone in the building thought the puck had gone in as Damon Severson even smashed his stick on the sequence (though that may have been due to the lineman’s interference that allowed the Hoffman chance to begin with). On the next sequence, Nico Hischier also got a breakaway but was also stopped by the post. Of note here is that St. Louis sent out young Barron for three overtime shifts!

In the shootout, Tatar missed before Caufield and Bratt both scored five-hole. Pitlick then completed a move that looked like the triple deke from the original Mighty Ducks movie. It worked as Pitlick scored before running himself directly into the post. Hughes then completed a beautiful deke on Montembeault before Suzuki fired it high which meant a sudden death shootout.

Severson was stopped with a Montembeault poke-check before Dvorak was robbed by a nice glove save by Daws. Hischier was then stopped before Joel Armia hit the post. Hamilton then scored five-hole only to see Hoffman respond in kind. Finally, a Yegor Sharangovich goal proved to be the difference as it was followed by Paul Byron delivering a weak attempt that was saved by Daws to give New Jersey the extra point.

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars

1st Star – David Savard

Who is this defender since returning from his injury? He was a player I did not much appreciate to start the season as he seemed slow and really one-dimensional. Now, he’s winning puck battles, playing physical, and he really seems to have a good sense for when to jump in on the attack and be impactful. He’s still slow, but as a veteran presence while the more talented youth get the development they so desperately need to be ready to be professionals when they get to Montreal, Savard is a defender I’ll appreciate if he can show consistency playing the way he has of late.

Stats: -1, 1 shot, 2 hits, 22:40 T.O.I.

2nd Star – Christian Dvorak

If I love the trust placed in Suzuki, I think Dvorak was more effective on this night and once again I think the coaching was in tune to that reality as Dvorak got some important minutes. It’s a quiet effectiveness in his case where people don’t always notice how effective he is in all three zones. It’s somewhat expensive for what it is, but man would Dvorak be a luxury on a third line in the not-so-distant future of this team.

Stats: 1 assist, +1, 4 shots, 19:13 T.O.I.

3rd Star – Jesse Ylonen

Ylonen did not get to play much, but he completed one of the better shifts in the first period on the entire team before being the one-timer weapon on the only power play of the night to look dangerous for the Habs. It’s not much, but it’s the type of small but noticeable effort that could earn him a real look come training camp next season.

Stats: 1 assist, 7:35 T.O.I.

Honourable Mentions – Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Alexander Romanov

All three of these players had sub-par games for me. So why mention them here? Because of what their presence represents for this franchise moving forward. Since the coaching change, the team has adhered to developing these players into the stars they have the talent to become. This doesn’t come without bumps in the road or without nights where one can’t truly justify the trust being placed in the player via the results on the ice. But stick with it and it shall come. Isn’t that true of both Romanov and Caufield lately? So on this night, where execution was lacking all over the ice, seeing these players learning what it means to play big minutes in a back-to-back scenario is a counter-performance every fan should accept with a giant smile on their face. This is what a season like this is about. Getting the gamers to learn the ropes. And didn’t they really respond in kind. The game-breaker who has struggled all night but finds a way to make a small play (chip-in by Suzuki, sent to the net by Caufield) leading to the game-tying goal. It’s truly great to see.

Suzuki’s Stats: +1, 4 shots, 23:32 T.O.I.

Caufield’s Stats: 1 assist, +1, 4 shots, 20:46 T.O.I.

Romanov’s Stats: -1, 2 shots, 4 hits, 24:05 T.O.I.