The Montreal Canadiens returned to the Bell Centre on Wednesday night to face the New Jersey Devils after a disastrous road trip. As a result, their grip on a playoff spot went from 'ironclad' to 'precarious.' The night began with a very emotional tribute to the recently departed Dickie Moore, who passed away on December 19.
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Lately, the Habs have been falling behind early in games, and have had a tough time getting back into them once they're down. It was therefore with great relief that they were able to kill an early interference penalty to Alexei Emelin, and then received an opportunity of their own when the Devils bench was called for too many men.
They were able to capitalize on that, as Max Pacioretty redirected a shot from Tomas Plekanec past Cory Schneider to open the scoring. The goal was challenged by the Devils due to Brendan Gallagher being parked in his usual spot in front of the net, but he didn't even touch Schneider, so the goal stood.
The Canadiens would get another power play opportunity early in the second when Stefan Matteau tripped Jeff Petry, but it would unfortunately be nullified by a P.K. Subban hooking penalty. It was beginning to feel like the bad luck that has befallen the team of late was bound to strike again in this game.
To Subban's credit, the penalty was due to a puck skipping over his stick, and him hooking Travis Zajac on the ensuing breakaway. If he doesn't hook him, it was a potential game tying goal on Zajac's stick.
Jordin Tootoo then provided the Canadiens with a golden opportunity to increase their lead. He shot a piece of broken stick at David Desharnais in order to knock the puck off the latter's stick, and that resulted in the officials awarding a penalty shot.
Desharnais would take the shot, and he came in hot on Schneider, only to fire the puck a little high and over the net.
The undisciplined play continued when Devante Smith-Pelly received a penalty for interference in front of the Devils net. However, it was the Canadiens who capitalized when penalty kill specialist Paul Byron got in on an odd man rush, did a nifty toe drag around a defender, and passed to Torrey Mitchell for a shorthanded goal.
Unfortunately the two goal lead was short lived. The Devils scored right at the start of the third period, when the puck was flipped from the Habs blueline and redirected by Adam Henrique past Mike Condon. Yet again it was beginning to feel like the bad luck blues would rear their ugly head.
The Canadiens thought they had restored the two-goal lead a minute later when Tomas Plekanec knocked the puck out of mid air into the net on a rebound, but the goal was immediately waved off due to a high stick.
Eventually, the Devils would have to pull Schneider for the extra attacker, but it was nothing doing. Montreal held their own in the defensive zone easily, and nearly got the empty-netter on several occasions. Avoiding the start of another losing streak, the Canadiens were triumphant in their return to the Bell Centre.
- The game wasn't exciting by any means, as is tradition with Devils games, but the Canadiens should take this win and build on it. Let it never be said that you have to win pretty to get two points. A win is a win, and the Canadiens sorely needed this one.
- There was a lot of solid play to be happy about as well. In particular the top line of Pacioretty/Plekanec/Gallagher. They controlled well over 60% of even-strength shot attempts when they were on the ice, and do not appear to have missed a beat during the absence of Gallagher.
- Despite attracting a lot of criticism lately, Max Pacioretty is currently on a five game point streak. For all the talk of his inconsistency, he has been pretty darn consistent even despite the recent slump.
- More on the top line: how important is Gallagher to this team? He didn't score, but he was all over the ice, and it could easily be argued that his net presence was as important to Pacioretty's goal as the redirection itself.
- Lots of credit must be given to Marc Bergevin for picking Paul Byron up off waivers. He now leads the NHL in shorthanded point with five, and has seemingly secured himself a permanent position on the starting roster, thanks in large part to his special teams play.
- After a very rough month of December, Mike Condon has now won his last three games with a cumulative 0.943 save percentage. He may very well have broken out of his personal slump.