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Canadiens vs Devils game preview

Presented with another underwhelming adversary, can the Habs manage to outplay their opponents?

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

For the second consecutive game, the Montreal Canadiens played an opponent they should have beaten soundly. For the second consecutive game, the Habs won, though much less emphatically than they could have.

Florida may have had the run of the play, but with Carey Price a strong goaltender backing them up, the Habs were able to make the tooth and nail defence of another one goal lead stand up for a shootout victory. The two points marked a fourth straight Montreal win, but that streak might not be the most significant pattern forming around this team.

Just before Christmas, the Canadiens won in spite of themselves, beating the Islanders while being heavily outplayed for long stretches. When they came back from the holiday break, Montreal beat Carolina, and were never really in danger of losing. Facing such a fragile squad, however, the Canadiens inability to put the Hurricanes away was curious.

None of these results are desirable, and obviously, a similar approach can't be expected to lead to wins forever. With a stretch of three tough games looming, the Habs would be well served to gain some momentum against tonight's downtrodden opponent.

How to Watch

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Quebec and Atlantic Canada (French): RDS
In Quebec and Atlantic Canada (English):
Sportsnet East
In New York and New Jersey: MSG+
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Devils
24-11-2 Record 13-19-2
7-3-0 L10 Record 2-6-2
49.5 Fenwick % (Within 1) 47.7
100 Goals For 83
Goals Against 111
1.24 5v5 Goal Ratio 0.86
14.7 PP% 20.0
86.0 PK% 79.3

Know Your Enemy

When the New Jersey Devils failed to qualify for last year's playoffs, they were guilty of overplaying an aged Martin Brodeur, at the expense of the superior Cory Schneider. This year, not even two thousand minutes of good play from Schneider has been enough to make New Jersey competitive.

After two seasons in which the Devils were steady but unable to get over the hump, the 2014-15 Devils have been a trainwreck.

When the Devils couldn't quite put things together, their hallmark was always shot suppression, keeping their opponents' production well below league average. That has continued this year, and Schneider has held up his end of the bargain. Accordingly, Lou Lamoriello's boys have been one of the league's especially stingy teams at even strength.

Meanwhile, their possession numbers - another strong suit of the last few years - have fallen off a cliff. They may be protecting Schneider, but the system put together by the no-longer-employed Peter Deboer has proven incapable of producing any offence. Of course, neither of those things were made any easier by the team's roster construction, or their unbelievable rash of injuries.

The Devils built their offensive aspirations around a corps of former blue ribbon scorers, nearly all of whom are now past their best before date. This strategy, unwise to begin with, has been undermined by injuries to Michael Ryder, Patrik Elias, Ryane Clowe, and Martin Havlat, leaving the offensive burden on Jaromir Jagr, Adam Henrique, and Mike Cammalleri. Bottom-six staples Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier are also out, leaving their spots to be filled with questionable AHL talent. Rookie defender Damon Severson, who had been one of team's bright spots, recently fractured his ankle.

The Devils lulled a few years ago, and the result was the selection of Adam Larsson at 4th overall. A well-organized, underrated team since that time, it seemed only a matter of time until N.J. broke out and returned to the playoffs. Instead, it looks like they'll go back to the draft, hoping that another highly-touted prospect can lead their next turn-around.

Last Time Out

The atmosphere that prevailed when these two teams last played, a 4-1 New Jersey victory, is not unlike the one that prevails now.

The Canadiens got drilled that night, and when recapping the game, the theme was the need for change. Some of those changes have occurred. For example, the Canadiens roster and line combinations are the strongest they've been in some time.

Some other changes are still pending. The Habs, for all their talent, struggle with some of hockey's most fundamentals skills. Even with numerous weapons at their disposal, their powerplay remains toothless.

They're near the top of the league table, and are coming off a season in which they reached the Eastern Conference Final, but despite these accomplishments, it's difficult not to feel that Montreal still faces many of the same challenges they faced one year ago.

It's looking more and more like nothing will change on the ice until something changes in the coach's offices. Until then, here's hoping that the Habs can handle an opponent that's been even less fortunate.