Ninety-three seconds into the game, the New Jersey Devils' first shot was deftly redirected by Mike Cammalleri into Carey Price's net.
The goal could easily have discouraged the Montreal Canadiens, given their poor performance in their previous losses versus two of the worst teams in the NHL. But the Canadiens — to a man — seemed determined to counter those poor performances with a full-intensity effort.
Image credit: HockeyStats.ca
The Habs were hitting opponents every chance they got, registering 15 body checks in the opening 20 minutes. For a team that entered the match fourth-to-last in hits per game, averaging just 19, the physical play was noticeably different from their normal style of play.
That aggression was channelled to the offensive side, as well, as the Canadiens lunched 26 shots towards the net in the opening frame, though Devils' starter Keith Kinkaid was able to stop the 14 that got through.
The Canadiens got a good chance to tie the game up at the midway mark of the second as the duo of Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher took off on a two-on-one, with Gallagher receiving a nice saucer pass from his linemate, but Kinkaid got across to eliminate the danger with a great glove save.
Shortly thereafter, at the other end of the rink, P.K. Subban was hit with a Dainius Zubrus high-stick. After Subban got up off the ice, Jaromir Jagr immediately corralled him, and by the response he received from Subban, it didn't appear to be out of concern for his well-being. After requiring some attention to staunch the bleeding that caused him to miss the first shift of the powerplay, Subban returned to the bench, all but told Therrien he was going to take the next shift, and, after a brief verbal exchange with the Devils bench to inform him that he was, in fact, not critically injured, re-entered the offensive zone on the man advantage.
Having shown no signs of letting up on the aggressive style in the middle period, the powerplay benefited mightily from the assertive approach to getting shots at the net. A series of high zone passes between Subban and Andrei Markov led to the fourth shot attempt of the first minor penalty; a shot that got through a Brendan Gallagher screen to tie the game up at one.
After a brief powerplay shift by Sergei Gonchar and Tom Gilbert, Subban retook the ice. During his shift he knocked down an attempted up-ice pass from Mark Fraser and snapped a backhand pass across the ice to Lars Eller, who one-timed it by an unsuspecting Kinkaid to give the Canadiens their first lead. After fist bumps with his teammates, Subban went by the Devils bench to assure everyone that he was, indeed, feeling no ill effects from the previous injury.
With Subban standing in the Steven Stamkos one-time spot on yet another powerplay at the end of the period, he received a rebound off a blocked Tomas Plekanec shot and sent it back to the veteran centre for another try, this time facing no resistance until the puck hit the twine behind Kinkaid.
With the help of the powerplay time, Montreal added a further 16 shots in the second period to the 14 they managed in the first, outplaying their visitors in every aspect of the game.
The Devils eliminated half of the advantage the Canadiens had worked hard to achieve at the three-minute mark of the third as Jacob Josefson blew past a fallen Gilbert and a chasing Gabriel Dumont to go in on a mini-breakaway, beating Carey Price on a glove-side deke.
The score remained at an uncomfortable 3-2 margin for several minutes. Around the 12-minute mark of the period, Subban carried the puck along the offensive blueline, drawing the attention of several Devils defenders before sending a pass back to Markov. Markov's shot went off the stick of Gallagher, who was once again posted up in front of the net, to Plekanec, who doubled his game goal total and his team's advantage with a shot from the bottom of the circle.
Thirty seconds later, the top line got in on the action as Pacioretty took a pass from David Desharnais, firing a slap shot from the point that was sent home by Dale Weise. The same setup order appeared on the scoresheet just under three minutes later as an end-board ring-around from Desharnais was relayed from behind the goalline to a net-charging Weise, who tallied his eighth goal of the season on the final scoring play of the game to cement a 6-2 victory.
The final shots favoured the Canadiens by a 44-23 margin. That stat is nothing new for a Devils team that has been significantly outshot this season, even during the five-game point streak they had coming into Bell Centre:
Devils were outshot 154-87 on five-game homestand and went 4-0-1.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) February 7, 2015
Final shots on goal were 44-23 for Canadiens. The 44 shots were the most the Devils have allowed in a game this season.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) February 8, 2015
The 44 shots by Montreal ties a season high for them, as well, matching the output the team managed against the Buffalo Sabres on November 29, 2014. The line of Galchenyuk, Plekanec, and Gallagher combined to register 16 of those shots.
P.K. Subban was not only instrumental in setting up the majority of the Habs' goals in the game, but he also finished with 33 even strength Corsi events for, compared to just eight against; good for a Corsi-for percentage of an astounding 80% in 20 minutes of five-versus-five play.
A convincing win versus a lowly opponent is not a cause for celebration, but given Montreal's seeming lack of desire to compete against teams near the bottom of the standings in recent games it's nice to know that the team is capable of playing at a high level when it sees fit. Placing some players back onto the scoreboard after long droughts and getting positive reinforcement for an aggressive style of play, especially on a powerplay which has been slowly recovering from early season ineptitude, can only be seen as a positive heading forward.
The Canadiens will have a chance to prove the effectiveness of that style when they take on a surging Boston Bruins team later tonight. They won't be able to dictate the physical play of the game (nor should they attempt to), but a repeat of the effort from last night would go a long way to securing a second consecutive win.