The Montreal Canadiens are the Eastern Conference's hottest team. They've done away with lower lights, beating the Leafs and Sabres during their recent streak. Their strong play also allowed them to conquer strong squads, like the Pittsburgh Penguins, and keep their roll going. On Monday night, however, that strong play stopped. Thankfully, the streak did not.
The Canadiens are rolling into Newark, New Jersey, prepared to complete a three night home-and-home with the Devils. The Habs earned the victory on Monday, as the tilt turned into a microcosm of New Jersey's season. The Devils played well, owned the possession numbers, but couldn't score. Ultimately, the three goals they allowed to Habs wingers Rene Bourque, Max Pacioretty, and Alex Galchenyuk were too much to overcome.
For Les Boys, it was their worst possession outing of the season, as they came in at a pitiful 27.9% fenwick close for the matchup. While the scoring chance numbers were not so drastically unflattering, it is clear that the Canadiens will need to be better if they wish to extend their recent run of success.
Carey Price was quite possibly the Habs best player on Monday, and the Montreal will have to make due without him this evening. With the Boston Bruins circled on the calendar for tomorrow, Price will sit this evening, and leaving Peter Budaj to contend with the likes of Jaromir Jagr tonight. Budaj's stellar record this year sits at 4-1-1, as he allows just over a goal and a half per game. For his 278 game NHL resume, Saint Peter has never faced the Devils, marking tonight as a first for the 31-year-old goaltender.
Speaking of Budaj's former compatriot, Jagr was a force for New Jersey on Monday, putting up six shot attempts and looking dangerous on many occasions. On one highly visible occasion, Jagr had a goal-line tap-in turn into a highlight reel P.K. Subban save, leaving him even with Steve Yzerman on the NHL's all-time goal-scoring list for now. With a strong evening, Jagr could find himself caught up to Mark Messier on the all-time list before the night is out, a feat which would require two goals. Fortunately for Montreal, team policy requires the Habs to allow timely goals only to those players seeking their first career NHL goal, and/or former Habs mired in an ugly slump. On those criteria, perhaps the Canadiens should be more concerned about the opportunistic Michael Ryder than the elder statesman.
While it was the elder statesman of NHL goaltending that the Habs faced two nights ago, New Jersey's goalie of the future will be the man in net this evening. Cory Schneider has been confirmed as the N.J. starter, making tonight's game a matchup of two starters who have never played the opposing team before. Schneider is off to a something of an inauspicious start south of the border. At the start of the year, Schneider was pegged at the man who would cement Martin Brodeur's slow drift into retirement. Instead, Brodeur has more starts than Schneider as we hit the season's one third mark, and Schneider has made the news for expressing his desire to start. Of course, Cory might have a point - while his record is only 4-5-3, his .927 save percentage and 1.72 GAA are much more impressive than Brodeur's numbers.
Regardless of who's in the New Jersey net, the Habs will need a better effort than they gave on Monday night, putting only 14 shots on net and allowing New Jersey 23 more shot attempts than they were able to muster. Michel Therrien has maintained a fairly consistent lineup since the Canadiens have been winning, but with a healthy roster at his disposal, it will be interesting to see if he opts to swap in a player or two as means of response to the poor showing. One possible example is the inclusion of Ryan White, who has sat for a couple of games, or a rejigging of the defense corps. Alexei Emelin played his fewest minutes since his return, and it still appears that he may be trying to get his feet under him. With Josh Gorges able to form a reliable pairing with Raphael Diaz, relegating the rugged Russian to the third pairing may be an option as well.
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