Heading into Wednesday night's contest, the Montreal Canadiens' clash with the New York Rangers was seen as the greatest challenge of their adolescent season. Tonight, the Habs will take it up a notch.
After entering a game against a team in the running to be Montreal's greatest competition in the East without their top-line right-winger, the Canadiens left the game with a new string of injury woes.
With Alex Semin on the shelf, Bud Holloway finally gets his shot at the big leagues. With Carey Price hurt again, Mike Condon gets the chance to show that he's grown following his first stint as a NHL starter.
While the brevity of Price's return means that Condon only got about a week off, that short break may be exactly what Condon needed. The quality of his play seemed to be slipping the longer he carried the carried the full-time load, and with a week off, he'll have had time to assess a decent sample size of top-level play, and determine where improvements are to be made.
Perhaps more importantly, he'll have had the type of opportunity to refresh himself, mentally and physically, that most NHL starters just don't get during the regular season.
With a shutout period in a game his team was dominating, it's so far, so good for Montreal's back-up. If the Habs are to maintain their lead in the Eastern playoff chase, they'll need that to continue, and for Condon to look like the goalie that was so impressive in his first few outings.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|53.3||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||48.2|
|1.45||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.83|
Know Your Enemy
After an abominable season last year, the New Jersey Devils organization is dealing with challenges of its own. The Devils were quiet during the off-season, nabbing Kyle Palmieri at the draft and then lurking on the sidelines until they issued PTOs to Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty. While Tlusty has been a non-factor for the Devils so far this season, Stempniak has been a revelation, putting up 16 points in first 21 games in the Black and Red.
Stempniak is one-third of a potent top line for the Devils, which is also comprised of Adam Henrique and former-Hab Mike Cammalleri. While Stempniak's productivity has been well-beyond the expectations presented by his minimal contract demands, Cammalleri is doing his part to uphold a cap-hit higher than all but two of his teammates.
Posting over a point-per-game so far, new bench boss John Hynes will make sure the Canadiens see lots of Cammalleri and his running mates tonight.
Unfortunately for Hynes, the well runs dry quickly after that top line. The Devils' top five scoring forwards, including each member of the first line as well as Travis Zajac and Palmieri, have combined for 83 points this season. Bobby Farnham, who is as close to a dedicated goon as there is in today's NHL and the proud owner of four points this season, is in sixth place.
The Canadiens have the horses to shut-down that top unit, even with their own top line weakened somewhat. If Montreal can manage that, their depth should be able to take over and get the three goals that would likely be enough for a win tonight.
Last Time Out
These two teams met at the tail-end of the 2014-15 regular season, with the Habs having more to play for than New Jersey. The Canadiens were fighting for a division title, while the Devils flew out of the gate at the unsustainable pace of a team that knows it isn't going to the playoffs.
As New Jersey's tempo slowed, the Canadiens slowly took over, and came close to doubling up the Devils in the shot column. With some stellar goaltending from Keith Kinkaid, however, and a number of missed opportunities over several powerplays, the Devils took the Habs to overtime and eventually the shootout.
No Canadien was successful on their attempt on Kinkaid, allowing Patrik Elias to take the game for his squad by beating Dustin Tokarski.
Elias made his season debut on Wednesday, and while his offence is down from the lofty peaks of his younger days, he remains precisely the type of effective secondary scorer that the Devils so sorely lack. If Elias can jumpstart one of the Devils middle-six lines, this game may take on a slightly different complexion.
Even with healthy bodies dwindling at an alarming rate, the Habs remain the far superior outfit this evening. Barring an outburst from the Devils special teams, or a dominant performance by Corey Schneider, the Canadiens should be well-positioned to continue their successful tour of the Metropolitan Division.