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After two strong games against the Oilers and Avalanche, it was fair to wonder what version of the Habs was going to come out for the first game of a three-game road trip that started in New Jersey. Overall, they played a decent road game, but the most important player in this Wednesday night was definitely Samuel Montembeault as the Habs escaped The Rock with a 3-2 win. 

Montreal’s Lineup

Cole Caufield — Nick Suzuki — Juraj Slafkovsky
Rafael Harvey-Pinard – Jake Evans — Brendan Gallagher                  Joshua Roy – Sean Monahan – Joel Armia                                        Michael Pezzetta — Mitchell Stephens — Jesse Ylonen 

Kaiden Guhle — Mike Matheson
Jayden Struble – David Savard                                                            Jordan Harris – Justin Barron 

Samuel Montembeault 

10 Thoughts

1) The first period was a rough one for the Habs as they mismanaged the puck throughout. They also gave up the only power play of the period after Timo Meier sold a high stick from Guhle. The league’s third-best man advantage did not get much organized on their chance though. The Canadiens were far more opportunistic as they ended the period up 10-9 in shots and 1-0 on the scoreboard.

2) Slafkovsky really did everything right on the lone marker in the period. Strong defensive positioning forced the Devils’ defenders back to get out of the zone. Then, he made a simple play in zone entry when nothing was there. Finally, he played the high man in the forecheck and correctly identified when to switch to offence to not get identified in coverage as he snuck into the slot and one-timed it home. Oh yeah, the Caufield mid-air pass wasn’t bad either.

3) Matheson got his stick up on Hischier on the first shift of the second period. Montembeault was once again huge, this time early on the power play chance. The Habs shut the door after this and then got their own chance with the man advantage where they controlled the play and got good zone time but not much in terms of scoring chances.

4) The Habs did a better job overall with their puck management in the second and third periods. However, they still struggled with the Devils’ speed off the rush as evidenced by their inability to close off the middle of the ice. The New Jersey was able to continue to attack the middle of the ice which made everyone’s job much harder in coverage. It really felt like they were playing with fire all night long.

5) I felt like Joshua Roy played his best period since his recall in the first period. He wasn’t cheating offensively, and he was rewarded with a partial break; he also completed an excellent pass to Monahan who got a scoring chance at the end of the first period. He was finally rewarded in the second period with his first NHL goal. The Devils were guilty of a sloppy line change which created a 2-on-1. Roy deferred to Monahan and Simon Nemec misplayed his coverage while Roy cut to the middle and was wide open for a pass and a one-timer.

6) In the final minute of the second period, Suzuki’s stick came up and hit Kevin Bahl in the face. It drew blood which meant a four-minute penalty. It looked like Suzuki was surprised to get hit on the play, which is why his stick came up, and I think there was definitely a case for interference against Bahl on the sequence. This turned out to be an important play with what the Devils did on their power play chances to start the third period.

7) The Devils opened the third period with a power play before Suzuki’s first penalty was over. Meier was doing excellent work screening Montembeault as Luke Hughes’ shot had eyes getting through a sea of bodies to get the Devils on the board. The comeback was complete 1:38 into the period as Alexander Holtz wired a one-timer from the top of the circle.

8) The Habs had to weather a New Jersey storm after the two goals and Montembeault was once again instrumental in getting his team to calm down after making some key saves. Montembeault already had a +3.33 saves above expected after two periods. He continued with a strong third period.

9) Did I mention Roy had a good game? With 4:31 to go, Roy made two excellent plays in the defensive zone to get the puck out of there. He then went for a change as Caufield came on the ice. Armia was a beast on the forecheck as he extended the offensive presence. The puck finally popped out to Monahan who sent it to the point where Harris (who was the best defender for the Habs on this night) put it on net. Nico Daws mishandled the puck with Monahan screening and Caufield was all over the rebound to give the Habs their lead back.

10) What a defensive effort to close out the game, notably by Stephens and Harvey-Pinard who won grimy battles and blocking shots as they prevented the Devils from ever really looking dangerous in those final moments, securing the win for Montreal.  

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars

1st Star – Samuel Montembeault 

The Devils were the better team for approximately 40 minutes of the 60 on this night. Montembeault made big saves all night long. What was perhaps even better was that Montembeault was excellent in rebound control which allowed him to limit the second and third chances against him. He’s really solidifying his role as the starter and the need for the team to move Jake Allen whenever possible. 

Stats: 28 saves on 30 shots, .933 save %, 2.00 GAA, 60:00 T.O.I. 

2nd Star – Cole Caufield 

I made the observation recently that Caufield has been a much better player away from the puck of late. Both his points on this night were Caufield being in the right position while away from the puck which allowed him to get on the board. He accepted physical contact to make the unreal pass out of the air to Slafkovsky on the team’s first goal. His own goal, yet another game-winning goal for him, came by collecting a rebound. This means that he was making his way to the dirty areas on the ice to get his, something he doesn’t always commit to. Excellent game from him. 

Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 1 hit, 2 shots, 18:57 T.O.I. 

3rd Star – Joshua Roy 

Roy’s game was explained in the thoughts. I’ll take this space to confirm that Roy deserved this 3rd star nomination, but that this was also Monahan’s best game in a long time. He looked faster than usual which likely allowed Roy to get more engaged offensively. Roy was also excellent defensively all night long. One of the things Laval coach J-F Houle did say was that Roy needed to find his motor on a more consistent basis, so let’s see if he can string a second game like that on Thursday night in Ottawa. 

Stats: 1 goal, +1, 1 hit, 5 shots, 12:32 T.O.I.