Playing their fourth of five games on the annual year-end road trip, Montreal entered New Jersey looking to keep their record perfect on the east coast journey.
The first period wasn't particularly good for the visiting club, with few shots or scoring chances for. Fortunately, their opponent, who sat second-last in the conference in goal differential going into the contest, managed to play even worse.
The majority of the period was spent fighting for pucks along the boards, with a mere thirteen total shots requiring the intervention of a goaltender: seven times by Devils' rookie Keith Kinkaid and six stops by Carey Price, who was looking for his two-hundredth career win in his four-hundredth NHL game.
Two rare chances by Montreal near the end of the period weren't registered on the score clock as P.A. Parenteau fired a shot off the side of the net, with Brendan Gallagher ringing one of the goalpost moments later.
Montreal did get some work on the powerplay after Brendan Gallagher was interfered with after dumping the puck past Jon Merrill. The puck movement was fairly sharp and quick, which hasn't been the case often this year for a Canadiens' team that had managed just fifteen powerplay goals and only four on the road to that point in the season.
On the Canadiens' second chance with the man advantage after Alex Galchenyuk drew a hooking penalty early in the second period, the alignment looked a bit different, with a twist on the 1-3-1 that actually was more of a 1-2-2. P.K. Subban manned the point flanked by Andrei Markov and Max Pacioretty at the top of either circle, while Brendan Gallagher stood in front of the net for the screen with Alex Galchenyuk standing slightly off to the left for a rebound/crease pass opportunity.
With two players eight feet apart near the net, the Devils had four penalty-killers to defend three possible shooting or passing avenues, and smartly used the extra body to double up the coverage in front of Subban and his point shot. The powerplay looked to Subban to get the shots, and with the defensive setup the Devils employed specifically to guard against that play, the powerplay was unable to generate many dangerous looks.
Montreal managed to open up the scoring with both teams at even strength. The Devils had their offensive rush turned aside by the new second defence pairing of Nathan Beaulieu and Sergei Gonchar, the latter sending the puck to the wing for Michael Bournival. Bournival carried the puck from his blueline into the Devils' zone, where he attempted a pass to a net-charging Dale Weise, the puck bouncing off of Weise's checker, Merrill, and into the net. The goal was the first of the season for a sparingly-used Bournival and some rare offence from the bottom trio of the team this season.
A great defensive play later in the period by Tom Gilbert to first get into the passing lane on a two-on-one against and then attack the puck-carrying forward to thwart the odd-man rush helped to maintain the one-goal lead.
With two minutes left to go in the second, Brendan Gallagher drew his second call of the night to send to powerplay back to work. The alignment remained the same as it had on the previous try, but the execution was a bit different. With the extra defender high in the zone to prevent Subban's shot, Pacioretty accepted the designated shooter's pass and walked into the the hole in the slot created when Dainius Zubrus went up high to prevent Subban's shot. Pacioretty fired the puck from the middle of the ice through Gallagher's screen to extend the lead to two.
The advantage increased to three a few minutes into the third period as Bournival knocked home his second goal of both the game and the season on a rebound off a Weise shot. Weise was credited with his ninth assist of the season on the play. All nine of them have been primary assists.
Just moments after the second goal from the fourth line, Alexei Emelin gave the puck up at the offensive blueline with his teammates established within the zone, resulting in an odd-man rush by the Devils. Gilbert was unable to defend his second two-on-one of the game and Michael Ryder scored his fifth goal to break Price's shutout bid.
A high-sticking penalty near the middle of the period sent the Canadiens' powerplay back to work, and the Pacioretty slide to the middle of the ice nearly worked again, with both Gallagher and Galchenyuk just missing the rebound from their setup positions near the net.
The near miss kept the lead at two goals, which was reduced to an uncomfortable one-goal advantage about a minute after the powerplay expired by another former Hab, Mike Cammalleri, netting his twelfth goal of the campaign with just under six minutes remaining.
A late period powerplay for New Jersey threatened to erase what remained of the earlier three-goal advantage, but some good work by Carey Price and the penalty killers in front of him prevented that from occurring.
After several missed chances on an empty Devils net, Tomas Plekanec finally secured a four-to-two win with a shot from just over the centre ice red line. Subban received his third assist of the game on the play and is tied for second on the team in points with Galchenyuk, three behind Pacioretty's team-leading twenty-nine.
The win gave Montreal eight of a possible eight points through four games of what is usually a very difficult holiday road trip. A losing record on the annual journey usually puts pressure on the team just to make the playoffs in the second half of the season, but that will not the be case for the 2014-15 Canadiens. They have a chance to win their sixth game in a row (and nine of ten) tonight in the final game of the excursion and take the Eastern Conference lead from their opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins.