Game Preview: Montreal Canadiens vs New Jersey Devils

Richard Wolowicz

After a win in Washington D.C., the Habs are back in Montreal to host the Devils in an early but not afternoon game on Sunday.

We sent some questions over to John Fischer of In Lou We Trust to get to know our opponents a little better. Here are his answers:

1) Martin Brodeur has been a Hab killer for 20 seasons, so obviously we took a bit of perverse pleasure in his less than stellar last couple seasons (playoffs notwithstanding). Is this shortened season with a compressed schedule an advantage or disadvantage for him?

I believe it may be an advantage based on what we've seen so far. Brodeur has been sensational in his first three games and the Devils probably don't beat Philadelphia 3-0 or Washington 3-2 if Brodeur didn't make several impressive stops on several tough shots against. It's worth noting the only three goals against him this season were off a wide open shot in the slot on a penalty kill, a backdoor play on a 3-on-5, and a long shot through traffic that came from a giveaway. He has only been beaten on shots that are not the fault of any goalitender. While he didn't play anywhere during the lockout, he clearly kept in shape and has mentally prepared for the season well. In that sense, his approach to the 48-game season is paying off well to a point where I'm not concerned. I do think he's currently on a hot streak and as with all streaks, they'll end at some point. By then, the schedule will get compressed and he won't have to be leaned for every game at that point. While Brodeur got the lion's share of starts last season, he isn't the workhorse that he once was so he'll have the opportunity to get a night off here and there.

2) With Zach Parise gone to free agency this past summer, who on the Devils do you think is most likely to step up and take care of some of his lost production?

Replacing Zach Parise is a difficult task and because he did so much for the Devils in terms of production, possession, and playing time, I don't think the Devils are going to fully replace him this season unless someone gets hot. In terms of just production, the clear answer to replace some of what was lost is center Travis Zajac. Zajac was injured for most of last season, but he has been the team's top center in prior seasons. He's currently the center for Ilya Kovalchuk, whom he has had success with in the Jacques Lemaire part of the 2010-11 season, so he's going to have a great opportunity to get shots and generate points. Zajac has never been a high production player, but a full season from him should fill in some of the gap Parise's departure left behind.

3) Ilya Kovalchuk is the only forward in the top 41 NHL players on the ice time per game leaderboard. He's a thoroughbred and always has been, but do you see his ice time decreasing a bit this season with more games over a short period and a division heavy schedule? The Atlantic division seems to be the strongest in the league.

No. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first and main reason comes right from the Devils' roster. They have four sure-fire top-six forwards, David Clarkson who has done pretty well so far on the second line, and not much else. Their third line is the team's fourth line from the playoffs and they've been playing like a fourth line. The fourth line consists of Stefan Matteau, who's straight from juniors and not likely to stay; Jacob Josefson, who is pretty good and gets moved up in the lineup when Mattias Tedenby falters and gets benched; and a goon who does nothing. They have 12 forwards active but only ten at most actually play a decent amount of ice time. The Devils are so thin at forward that head coach Peter DeBoer has to rely on his top forwards heavily. That means Kovalchuk will get a ton of minutes and it will remain that way until the Devils get 12 capable forwards playing in positions they can handle. Second, Kovalchuk has become an all-situations player for New Jersey. He's a constant presence on the power play because of his exceptional offensive skills and the fact that the Devils don't have a lot of offensive players. He's also a regular on the penalty kill, where his speed and strength helps him win pucks and can provide the occasional offensive threat. He's been quite good, but it also means he takes more minutes. Third, DeBoer leaned on Kovalchuk a lot last season and in the 2012 playoffs and Kovalchuk succeeded. Like most coaches, DeBoer isn't going to mess with success unless he has to, so Kovalchuk remains the big minute forward. Given all of this, I think it would take a poor game or injury for Kovalchuk's ice time to decrease this season.

For the first time in two games, the Canadiens are facing an opponent that they beat last year. That said, they only beat them once in four tries, and were outscored 14-8.

The most dangerous forward for the Devils last year in the season series was Dainius Zubrus of all people, scoring 3 goals and adding 4 assists.

The Canadiens most dangerous forward against the Devils though, isn't going to be playing. As we found out last night, Max Pacioretty underwent emergency surgery to remove his appendix. Pacioretty will be out 3-4 weeks, a devastating blow to a team that already isn't shooting the lights out from a possession standpoint. With Pacioretty out, Lars Eller is back in, and he goes from the press box to the second line. I was going to say top line, but with how they're playing and with Pacioretty out, let's be honest, they're not the top line anymore.

With both P.K. Subban and Pacioretty out, more than ever the game depends on Carey Price and the play of special teams. Expect the Canadiens to be bowled over at even strength.

The game begins at 6:00PM EST on CBC and RDS.

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