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The Habs kicked off their 2023 preseason on Monday as they hosted the Devils.  It was a relatively inexperienced group suiting up for Montreal in this one and it showed as they were doubled up 4-2.

With Montreal holding their intrasquad game on Sunday, they didn’t want their players playing back-to-back so early so anyone who played then wasn’t available for this one.  The team lined up as follows:

Slafkovsky– Newhook – Anderson
Pezzetta – Stephens – Farrell
Roy – Beck – Ylonen
Simoneau – Condotta – Legare

Guhle – Reinbacher
Xhekaj – Barron
Harris – Mailloux

The game got off to a slow start (it’s the first game of preseason, after all) but the Habs got the first power play of the game when Tyler Toffoli – who was acquired by New Jersey this summer – hooked Kaiden Guhle.  The first unit did nothing but the second didn’t waste any time making a mark.  Jesse Ylonen gained the zone and handed it off to Xavier Simoneau; he zipped a cross-ice feed to an open Joshua Roy who fired it past Akira Schmid to get the home side on the board.

The Devils – whose forward unit was much stronger than Montreal’s in this game – then got to work with several strong shifts, pinning the Canadiens deep.  Just before the midway mark, David Reinbacher couldn’t corral a pass from Kaiden Guhle, leading to a turnover.  A quick pass went to Jack Hughes who was alone in the slot but Samuel Montembeault stretched out the pad to make the stop.

However, just seconds later, Sean Farrell turned it over at the blueline to John Marino who sent a feed down low for Justin Dowling.  Dowling tried to go cross-crease to Kyle Criscuolo but instead, the puck found its way to Joseph Gambardella who lifted it past Montembeault to tie the game.

A couple of minutes later, Josh Anderson drove the net, did a half-spin, and got a good backhander on goal.  Schmid made the top and Juraj Slafkovsky couldn’t quite get to the rebound.  The Devils followed that up with several more strong shifts.

With a little over five minutes to go, Anderson tripped up Marino behind the New Jersey net, giving the Devils their first man advantage.  Neither wave could get much going.  Just after Anderson got out of the box, he got the puck and got past Topias Vilen, creating a two-on-one.  He opted to shoot but sent it wide.  The final few minutes went by without much action and the two sides went to the room tied at one apiece.  Shots in the opening period were 13-7 for New Jersey.

The second period had some more pace at the start although it didn’t result in much of the way of shots for either side.

New Jersey went back to the man advantage when Simoneau hooked Criscuolo just past the three-minute mark.  About 15 seconds later, Simon Nemec dumped the puck in from centre.  It took a weird bounce off the boards (which apparently were in midseason form) and headed toward the goal.  The puck caught the back of Montembeault’s skate and went into the net, a tally that will be on the blooper reel for months to come.  At least it’s only the preseason.

A couple of minutes later, Criscuolo slashed Jordan Harris, giving the Habs their second crack on the power play.  Anderson tried to drive the net and while the puck was poked at several times, he stayed with it, giving himself a partial break.  He got off a decent backhander but Schmid made the stop.  That was Montreal’s best chance of the sequence.

As the power play was ending, Tomas Nosek held up Logan Mailloux at the point that went uncalled.  Mailloux turned over the puck and the Devils were off to the races on a two-on-none with Criscuolo jumping out of the box.  He took the shot but Montembeault made the key stop.  A little before the midway mark, Toffoli got off a strong one-time that Montembeault was also ready for, allowing him to end his half-game on a good note.

With just under eight minutes to go, Lucas Condotta got a good shot off in close but seconds later, Nathan Legare was called for high-sticking.  Not a great way to give Jakub Dobes his first taste of professional action.  Mailloux tried a one-on-three rush shorthanded which didn’t go well.  He did hustle back against Hughes but eventually, Hughes got free and headed for the middle of the ice.  He sent a feed down low to Dawson Mercer who had plenty of room to shoot at and made no mistake.

The Habs were able to get that one back a little over a minute later.  Alex Newhook got the puck and the point and sent a cross-ice feed to Reinbacher who had pinched in.  He went cross-crease for Anderson who was able to jam it in with a good second effort.  Anderson nearly had his second four minutes later but his shot from the right faceoff dot caught the post.  New Jersey held the one-goal lead after 40 minutes while Montreal had the narrow 8-7 shot advantage.

It was a quiet start to the third period as it was more than four minutes before either side had a shot on net.  Owen Beck had a good interception on Vilen, Toffoli had a hard one-timer that missed, and, well, that’s about it.

Five minutes in, Ylonen slashed Max Willman, sending the Devils back to the power play.  Once again, New Jersey was quick to take advantage.  Mercer got the puck to Nolan Foote in the middle of the ice.  His shot was stopped but Hughes was there to bury the rebound.

Soon after, Colin Miller pushed Roy into Keith Kinkaid, who took over for Schmid at the start of the third period.  Kinkaid stayed down for a bit but stayed in the game, at least for a few more minutes.

Just before the eight-minute mark, Slafkovsky’s hard wrister was deflected high.  It eventually went to Newhook who had an open net but his shot drew iron.

Montreal got another crack at the power play when Nosek lifted the puck into the crowd just before the midway mark.  The Habs couldn’t get much going; Ylonen had a one-timer but that was pretty much it.  A minute after the penalty ended, the Devils got two good chances.  Hughes drove the net but Dobes got a pad on it.  Hughes got the rebound and sent a pass to Vilen.  Dobes came way out of his crease to cut down the shot, showing the aggression he was known for at Ohio State.  After the play, Kinkaid pulled himself so Schmid had to return.

Over the final few minutes, there wasn’t much to speak of.  Nosek missed a wide-open net and while the Habs pulled Dobes with 2:15 left, they couldn’t muster up much.  Ylonen had a one-timer and seconds later, his missed shot yielded a rebound for Roy but the winger just missed burying the rebound to end the 4-2 loss.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Josh Anderson – Coming into this, I wanted to focus more on the youngsters for the three stars but it’s impossible to not mention Anderson.  The veteran was by far Montreal’s best player and their most dangerous one.  He has games like this periodically throughout the season where he just finds another gear.  It’s good that he still has that; here’s hoping we see more of it during the regular season when it matters.

Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 3 shots, 2 blocks, 18:59 TOI

2nd Star: Owen Beck – Last year, there was no pressure on him; he just came in and made his presence known.  This time, there are some expectations for Beck to do that again and more.  He wasn’t flashy but he was sharp at the draw, good with his stick, and showed some creativity in the offensive zone.  This was the type of game that shows he could play at this level in a limited role now although that’s certainly not the best option for his development.

Stats: 0 points, even rating, 1 shot, 10/17 faceoffs, 15:35 TOI

3rd Star: Joshua Roy – I didn’t notice him as much as Beck on a shift-to-shift basis but Roy made the perfect read to get open on his power play goal and when the puck was in the offensive zone, he was putting in an effort to get to the right spots.  His thinking like that will bring him some success in the pros, especially when he’s with a more offensive-oriented line.

Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 3 shots, 2 blocks, 16:23 TOI

Honourable Mention: Logan Mailloux – It’s easy to see why he’s viewed as a high-ceiling prospect.  He’s quite a strong skater and has the offensive skill to not only jump up in the rush but be a legitimate threat.  On the flip side, he’s a high-risk, high-reward type of player and he paid for his risks a couple of times.  He led all Montreal blueliners in ice time but the Habs will have to take the good with the bad as they did in this one.

Stats: 0 points, even rating, 2 shots, 3 hits, 21:00 TOI