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After a pair of overtime losses to start the week, the Habs looked to get back in the win column on Saturday as they hosted New Jersey.  However, they weren’t able to muster up much offensively, falling 3-1.

There was only one lineup change for the Canadiens and it was the only one they could make with Jake Allen getting the nod in goal over Samuel Montembeault.  With the team only carrying 12 healthy forwards and six defencemen, there weren’t any scratches.  The Habs lined up as follows:

Harvey-Pinard – Suzuki – Ylonen
Hoffman – Drouin – Anderson
Pitlick – Tierney – Gurianov
Pezzetta – Belzile – Richard

Matheson – Kovacevic
Guhle – Savard
Edmundson – Wideman

New Jersey had the first good chance of the game on the opening shift as 20 seconds in, they had a two-on-one but Dawson Mercer’s feed was broken up.  However, it led to an extended sequence in Montreal’s zone.  The Devils didn’t get a shot but Jonathan Drouin nearly beat Allen; he tried to push it back to the netminder who wasn’t expecting it but Allen got a pad on it before it got to the goal line.

While that start could have been the beginning of a back-and-forth affair, it wasn’t as the next several minutes featured little in the way of action.

A little past the eight-minute mark, a trio of Habs collided at the defensive blueline, never a good thing from a coverage perspective.  The puck wound up behind Montreal’s net but Miles Wood forced Kaiden Guhle to turn it over.  Nathan Bastian was there to take it and with the Canadiens still scrambling back into position, he had time and space to circle out front and beat Allen five-hole to open up the scoring.

The Habs were able to push back over the next couple of minutes with some good chances.  Rafael Harvey-Pinard tipped a long shot just wide while just past the midway point, Josh Anderson skated in on the rush, using his speed to create a two-on-one.  He got a pass across to Jonathan Drouin but Drouin tipped it just wide.

Montreal’s best chance came with four minutes left in the frame.  Anthony Richard got the puck in the neutral zone and built up plenty of speed, splitting New Jersey’s defence to create a breakaway for himself but Akira Schmid was there to make the stop.

That proved to be an important save as with just over a minute to go, the Devils were able to double their lead.  Mercer recovered the puck in Montreal’s zone and sent a feed to Damon Severson.  The blueliner skated to the right faceoff dot and sent a pass across to a wide-open Nico Hischier.  The puck hit his skate and bounced into the open net on a play that Allen had no chance on, giving the visitors the two-goal advantage heading to the break.  Shots on goal in the opening period were 11-8 for the Devils.

New Jersey came out firing to start the second but couldn’t beat Allen.  They had eight shots within the first eight minutes.  Meanwhile, in that stretch, the Habs had a good fourth line shift in the middle of it and not much more.

Just before the midway mark, Drouin had a chance to hit Anderson in stride on the rush.  Instead, he slowed and waited for Kaiden Guhle who was trailing the play.  Guhle got off a good high shot through a bit of a screen but Schmid was there to make the stop.  Coming back the other way, Allen made a good cross-crease stop on a one-timer from Timo Meier.

With five minutes left, the Devils started to put on the pressure once more with some extended zone time.  The end result was several stops and several blocked shots but notably, no goals.

That was key for the Canadiens as with two minutes to go, Rem Pitlick took the puck away behind the New Jersey goal and sent a quick feed to the slot.  Denis Gurianov was there and ready as he one-timed it past Schmid to get the Habs on the board, cutting the deficit in half heading to the room.  Shots in the period were 16-9 for the Devils.

Montreal had a good chance to tie it early in the third as less than 90 seconds in, Drouin made a nice play to set up Anderson in the slot.  Anderson had a bit of time and space so he tried to pick the corner far-side but missed wide.

Two minutes later, Allen had to hustle out of the crease to beat a rushing Hischier to the puck.  Otherwise, the New Jersey captain would have had a breakaway but Allen was able to poke the puck out of danger.

For the next ten minutes or so, very little happened.  Generally speaking, at this time of year, the passes are supposed to be crisp and the intensity high.  This game had a lot of sloppiness and the intensity level of a late-September preseason affair.  While it made for a penalty-free contest, it wasn’t pretty to watch at times.  During this stretch, Montreal’s best chance was arguably Chris Tierney sending the puck into Schmid’s skates from behind the net and hoping for the best.

They got a good chance with six minutes left, however.  Guhle took a feed from Nick Suzuki and just kept it onside.  From there, he skated around a defender to get to the left faceoff dot.  From there, he sent a centring feed to Johnathan Kovacevic whose redirection was on target but stopped but the rebound created a good scramble opportunity.  A minute later, Jesper Bratt got around Matheson for a quick break.  He went far-side on Allen but the netminder got across to make the pad stop.

With 90 seconds left, the Canadiens had their best chance.  Mike Hoffman skated the puck in on the right wing and went behind the net.  He sent a pass to the slot that wound up right on Drouin’s stick.  Drouin made a quick move and fired a good shot that beat Schmid but not the post.  As this was happening, Allen was pulled for the extra attacker and it didn’t take long for New Jersey to capitalize with Tomas Tatar getting a shot through David Savard into the yawning cage.  Allen was pulled again but Montreal couldn’t muster anything up from there.  Shots in the final frame were 10-7 for the Devils.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Jake Allen – If I’m being honest, I really didn’t like the first goal he allowed.  However, on a night where Montreal basically had nothing going offensively, to hold a high-scoring team like New Jersey to just two goals means that Allen certainly did his job.  He gave them a chance to win, even late with the big stop on Bratt’s break.

Stats: 34 saves on 36 shots, 2.04 GAA, .944 SV%

2nd Star: Denis Gurianov – His line wasn’t the most visible for long stretches but at the same time, he led the Habs in shots and scored their only goal of the game.  Not his best outing with his new team but it was an effective one nonetheless as he tries to earn himself a contract with Montreal for next season.

Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 4 shots, 2 hits, 15:42 TOI

3rd Star: Johnathan Kovacevic – The rookie has struggled a bit lately but this was a nice bounce-back outing for him.  He seemed to have the puck on his stick a lot and more often than not, made the right play with it while having a steady game in his own end.  His chance in the third was one of Montreal’s better opportunities down the stretch.

Stats: 0 points, even rating, 3 shots, 18:11 TOI

Honourable Mention: Nick Suzuki – No, he didn’t carry the team offensively but that’s hard to do with two AHL recalls on the wings.  However, he did set up some good chances (leading the team in xGF%), limited things defensively, and had one of his best nights of the year at the faceoff dot.  That’s enough to earn the mention here.

Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 12/17 faceoffs, 19:29 TOI