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The Canadiens headed out to a “Hockey Afternoon in Canada” matchup in Newark, taking on the New Jersey Devils in a rare 2 PM start. The Devils are still chasing a wild-card playoff spot, while the Habs were coming into town on a five-game losing skid, tied for the longest of the season.

Some things seemed to go right–scoring first, and not taking unnecessary penalties–but in the end, it really wasn’t enough, as the bleu, blanc, et rouge dropped a 4-3 decision after a pair of poor defensive plays in the third period. The empty-net play was better again, but it was only enough to bring the gap down to one goal. So, six losses in a row now, as the Canadiens head back home to take on the Coyotes, who are amidst an even worse slump.

Montreal’s Lines

Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovský
Roy – Newhook – Armia
Anderson – Evans – Gallagher
Pearson – White – Ylonen

Matheson – Guhle
Xhekaj – Savard
Harris – Kovacevic


10 Thoughts

1) It was another tentative start, with only three shots–two by the Habs, one by the Devils–in the first eight minutes of the game. The first threat was a pretty cross-ice pass by Jake Evans, well-addressed to Josh Anderson. Anderson, on the left side of the net, got the shot off immediately, but Nico Daws kicked out his right pad to make the save. The rebound was loose in the front of the net, and before the Devils were able to clear it, Evans took a shot from short distance, but that shot found the Devils logo on Daws’ chest and not much more.

2) Nick Suzuki had a chance late in the period, as Joel Armia rushed the New Jersey zone with Suzuki in tow. After some board battles, Armia got the puck to Cole Caufield, who had a legitimate scoring chance but was denied by Daws.

3) After the scoreless first, it was Brendan Gallagher who drew first blood. With the Habs’ third line hemming in the Devils in the New Jersey zone, Evans snatched the puck on the right-side boards and passed it to Gallagher, who had been watching and waiting. He one-timed a slap shot from the top of the right-side circle, with two defenders in front of Daws, and the puck found the net before Daws could find the puck.

4) Alas, that was not a long-lived lead, and little more than two minutes elapsed before the Devils tied the game back up. As they broke into the Montreal zone, Alex Newhook lost his stick, and by the time he was able to recover it, Kevin Bahl had sent a pass over to Timo Meier, who was parked next to the right-side goal post. Arber Xhekaj couldn’t intercept the pass, and neither David Savard nor any of the forwards covered Meier, so the Swiss forward had an easy time tipping the puck into the open net next to Jake Allen.

5) Johnathan Kovacevic spotted Caufield on the left-side boards at the Devils’ blue line and sent over a nice cross-ice break-out pass from the right side of the Montreal zone. Caufield was ready, and forwarded the puck back to the right, where Suzuki was rushing across the ice. The captain waited a few strides, and then snapped a shot from near the faceoff dot, beating Daws high on the glove side to restore the lead.

6) Unfortunately, the Devils had an answer to that one, too, as Allen gave up a juicy rebound on a Simon Nemec shot. Gallagher had a front-row seat as Ondrej Palat skated for the puck and sent it back into the net-front traffic, and luckily–for the Devils–through and into the goal. One might have hoped that Gallagher’s defensive instincts might have kicked in, but that was not the case here.

7) Nico Hischier gave the Devils the lead 13 minutes into the final frame as he beat Matheson on a power play rush. It was unfortunate positioning for Matheson, who was not able to effectively engage Hischier.

8) The Habs had a golden chance to tie things up soon after that, as Alex Newhook sent a pass to Joshua Roy along the left-hand sideboards, and Roy passed it in turn to Anderson, who was driving for the net. Anderson beat the New Jersey defence, but then shot the puck onto the crossbar, missing out on a stonking scoring chance. That’s now 13 games in a row without scoring for the Habs’ power forward.

9) Three minutes after the Hischier goal, Meier blocked a hard shot by Xhekaj. As he fell, Jesper Bratt seized the loose puck and rushed out of the New Jersey zone with Xhekaj on his heels. Matheson was back, and covering Bratt’s rush, but as the Devils’ forward reached the faceoff circle, he simply skated around Matheson and across the net, tucking the puck into the Montreal goal along the way to extend the New Jersey lead to 4-2.

10) Martin St-Louis pulled Allen with about two and a half minutes remaining, and the recently-improved six-on-five play looked decent again, although only three shots made it to the net. Daws saved two of those, but the third found the back of the net. After Suzuki shot wide, it looked like the Devils were able to clear the zone, but Matheson dove for the puck, and was able to send it to Armia, at the hash marks, who had seen that Suzuki was ready in front of Daws. Armia immediately sent the puck on to Suzuki using a backhand pass, and Suzuki made no mistake tucking it through Daws’ five-hole. 4-3, then, but unfortunately that’s all she wrote, sending the Habs home with a regulation loss.

HW Habs Three Stars

First Star: Nick Suzuki (2g, 0a, 4 shots, +1, 21:33 TOI) was in his element again. He missed on a nice chance with Allen on the bench but made up for it by wiring the puck through Daws’ five-hole. It was not quite enough, but the two goals were a good showing after being held off the scoresheet for the last two games.

Second Star: Johnathan Kovacevic (0g, 1a, 0 shots, +1, 17:18 TOI) was paired with Jordan Harris this time, and it was working well for them. They both had an xGF percentage of over 75, and Kovacevic clinched the second star with the long pass to Caufield for the second Habs goal. It’s a bit of a log jam on the defence corps, but Kovacevic, too, is a legitimate NHL player.

Third Star: Tanner Pearson (0g, 0a, 4 shots, +0, 10:36 TOI) didn’t see much ice time, but the fourth line, including Colin White and Jesse Ylonen, held its own and managed to generate some scoring opportunities, too.