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The Habs kicked off their preseason with a contest against the New Jersey Devils. As is usually the case at this time of year, there were plenty of new faces and many missing regulars. Up front, the lines consisted of Owen Beck centring Cole Caufield and Mike Hoffman, Kirby Dach between Rem Pitlick and Juraj Slafkovsky, Filip Mesar with Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Anthony Richard, while Jan Mysak centred Michael Pezzetta and Joshua Roy. The blueline saw Mike Matheson paired with Justin Barron, Kaiden Guhle paired with Jordan Harris, and Gianni Fairbrother paired with Mattias Norlinder. The goaltending tandem for the evening was Jake Allen for the first half and Cayden Primeau for the second.

The first period was full of narratives that are expected to become routine throughout the season. With such a young back end, the start of the game was rather sloppy. Allen came up big when needed, but the Devils also lacked execution which gave the Habs time to find their timing.

The first man advantage of the game went in favour of the Habs. They were unable to capitalize, though Pitlick was dangerous on two shots in the sequence.

The second half of the period started with a second power play for the Canadiens and this time it was Matheson and Hoffman playing catch until a lane to Caufield opened. Caufield released a one-timer from the top of the circle to beat Mackenzie Blackwood and open the scoring.

The rest of the period was Jake Allen making big stops to preserve the lead, including his best during the one power play the Devils were allocated for a Dach high-stick.

The second period changed the script a bit and featured the best-case scenario for the Habs. The Devils increased their shot lead, but Montreal really pushed the pace of the period and I’d be really interested in seeing the advanced stats because it really felt like they carried the bulk of the scoring chances. The best chance came on a Habs advantage as Pitlick found Mesar in the slot for a glorious shot that was met with an excellent Blackwood save.

The second half of the game saw New Jersey find their feet and start fighting back. The Habs were still mostly in control though until a sloppy line change opened the door for a Devils power play with four minutes to play. Jesper Bratt took full advantage of the youth in red as he took a puck in the corner, and pulled a nice fake on Guhle before fooling Primeau with a pass in front that Tatar buried to tie the game.

Slafkovsky got his name on the board before the end of the period, but it was for running into Nico Daws as he took a goaltender interference penalty that his teammates were able to kill for their rookie.

The third period was very entertaining as the Devils were the better team, but Primeau made some important saves that allowed the Habs to get some sporadic scoring chances that were likely the most dangerous of the period. Hoffman got a great chance, but the best came when Beck beat Daws and hit the post after an awesome pass from Caufield.

With six minutes to play, Primeau made an initial stop on Graeme Clarke but failed to stay on his post as the rebound was squeezed in short side by Clarke to give the Devils the lead.

A minute later, Matheson continued his stellar performance as he kept the puck in and sent it on net and Pezzetta tipped it home. The Devils immediately challenged for offside which was true, so the goal didn’t count.

Caufield then missed a near open net before the Devils took another penalty with 2:37 to play. The Habs got quite a bit of chances as Slafkovsky, Mesar, Hoffman, Matheson and Dach all got looks in the final minute, but the Devils hung on for the win.

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars

1st Star – Mike Matheson

One game is a terribly small sample size but what a game it was. Matheson might not be as physical as Jeff Petry, but he’s just as implicated on the entire 200-foot game and he handles the power play so much better than Petry. Many defensive gems and offensive creation made Matheson the best Hab on the ice (Bratt may have been the best player overall). If he handles himself like this regularly, I think the fan base will quickly forget about Petry, and that’s not a knock on Petry who was an excellent Hab for a long time. Wow! What a game by Matheson.

Stats: 1 assist, 0(+/-), 1 shot, 1 hit, 25:54 T.O.I.

2nd Star – Cole Caufield

Caufield once again showed what he’s all about. He does just enough to not be noticeable defensively, helps teammates with plays on the puck when needed, and then gets the entire arena off their feet anytime he touches the puck on the offensive side of the red line. Caufield put home the preseason’s first goal and the only goal for Montreal on this night. He also stepped up in the third when the game was on the line as he set up Beck with a great chance before missing his own open net.

Stats: 1 goal, -1, 5 shots, 16:24 T.O.I.

3rd Star – Kaiden Guhle

Many of the younger players showed flashes of skill that led to excitement while the expectation with Guhle was the mature, steady presence on the blue line. Instead, we got all that and then some. The maturity with which Guhle was able to read and decipher when to back off and when to pinch, press, and support the offence was very impressive. The fact that he showed off some wheels and made offensive plays was over the top. Guhle was the victim of poor positioning on the Devils’ power play goal, but other than that, not much to pick at in the entirety of his game. Oh yeah, he was playing with another impressive rookie in Harris and they made this game look easy for most of the game. Will be interested to see how both of them handle the games later in preseason when the pace increases.

Stats: -1, 1 hit, 4 blocks, 17:01 T.O.I.

Honourable Mention – Jake Allen

Allen only played half the game, but he was a big factor as the young players on the Montreal side took some time to get under control and weren’t penalized for it as Allen had a strong first period. With a blue line as young as the one being projected in Montreal this season, that veteran presence will be key in keeping the team into games when players are a little overwhelmed in specific situations. Allen gave us a glimpse of that veteran presence on this night.

Stats: 18 saves, 18 shots, 1.000 save %, 0.00 G.A.A., 29:17 T.O.I.