Having lost their previous two games, and not playing particularly well in either of them, the Montreal Canadiens hit the road once again, this time to take on the New Jersey Devils. Carey Price was given a rest after starting the team’s last four contests, turning the reins over to Al Montoya on the first night of a back-to-back.
The Canadiens came out with a lot of jump, and kept the puck in the Devils’ end, getting several good looks but only one shot on goal in the game’s opening minutes.
The Devils did manage to find their legs after the opening flurry from the visitors, and one foray into the offensive zone was all they needed to open the scoring. After the puck had bounced around in front of Montoya’s crease, it eventually found its way back to the point, and Steven Santini floated one toward the goal. It got past a few sticks as Devils players tried to knock it down (confirmed on a video review after the fact) and went into the top corner to give the Devils a 1-0 lead.
New Jersey’s next shift in the offensive zone didn’t have such a positive result, as Miles Wood was sent off for chopping the stick out of Alex Galchenyuk’s hands. On the ensuing power play, Alexander Randulov pulled off a skillful zone entry, taking a pass one-handed to gain the offensive zone. He moved the puck across to Galchenyuk, and the centreman ripped a shot that beat Keith Kinkaid to tie things up at one goal apiece.
It was Nathan Beaulieu’s pass that sent Radulov into the zone, and therefore earned the beleaguered blue-liner yet another point on the season; his 15th assist put him just two helpers — and the same number of points — behind his career-high set last season.
He proved that the play was no fluke when the Habs went right back to the man advantage and he played a major part in Montreal maintaining pressure in the Devils end, doing a great job playing the role of quaterback at the point. He was patient in drawing in defenders and confident in his puck movement, dishing the puck in either direction to find the player open for a shot.
The Habs’ good play wasn’t just limited to their opportunities with more players on the ice. They played the first 14 minutes nearly exclusively in the attacking zone, that early goal the only mark against in that time.
After the third TV timeout, the Devils came out looking to get back into the fight, and had their first real stretch of offensive pressure of the night. The concerted effort was seen at both ends of the ice, and led to Alexei Emelin being forced to hang onto Taylor Hall to prevent an odd-man rush, sending the Devils to their first power play.
Montreal’s penalty kill was very aggressive, not sitting back and letting players move into prime positions around the net. On two occsions the puck bounced into the slot, but that was as dangerous as New Jersey’s man advantage got in the two minutes.
The period ended with just seconds remaining in the penalty, and the Habs holding a 10-3 edge in shots, though still locked in a tie on the scoreboard.
Each team got a full power play in the second period’s opening minutes, the Devils coming on yet another penalty to Radulov (his 21st of the year), but neither team was able to take advantage.
The offence was fairly limited overall in the second, with the Habs only managing nine shots on the Devils’ backup despite all their possession time, and New Jersey forced to wait until after the 13-minute mark to register their first shot of the middle frame.
Unsurprisingly, the period ended without any further scoring. The Habs extended their dominance on the shot clock, but it remained anyone’s game heading into the third.
The final frame opened with yet another strong play from Beaulieu, as he carried the puck over the blue line, and attempted to set up on the half wall to dish the puck back to the point. Karl Stollery decided that was a good opportunity to throw a big hit, and sent Beaulieu into the boards from behind. The Devils’ defenceman was given a five-minute boarding major for his efforts, though the first two minutes were negated by Torrey Mitchell’s attempt at retribution.
With Mitchell out of the box and back on the bench, Beaulieu and the top unit got to work. They didn’t take much time in making the Devils pay, as the puck got back to Shea Weber and he launched a shot into the net for his ninth power-play goal of the season.
Just moments later, Max Pacioretty completed the master class in vengeance when he scored the Habs’ second goal of the power play less than 90 seconds later. The marker from the captain ensured that Stollery would head back to the players’ bench with his club down by two goals.
All three Habs goals had come on the man advantage, and both Radulov and the recently-returned Galchenyuk had their names inscribed on each one.
The Habs had one more chance on the power play a few minutes later as Radulov was tripped at his own blue line, but while the Habs launched several shots toward Kinkaid once again, they couldn’t extend their lead beyond those two goals.
The last several minutes of the game were played with the Habs protecting their own netminder rather than trying to beat the other, and Montoya was able to stop the remaining shots that came his way.
The Canadiens left New Jersey with the 3-1 win, snapping a two-game losing streak and taking advantage of a weaker opponent to perhaps get their game back on track.
- After a rough stretch, getting shuffled down the lineup and having his coach publicly stating he expected him to be better, Nathan Beaulieu had an excellent game. He could have responded with a conservative effort, dumping the puck in and trying to not make mistakes, but instead he played the type of game most observers feel him capable of executing on a regular basis. He was both assertive and creative with the puck in the offensive zone. His defensive skills weren’t given much of a test in New Jersey, but his offensive and possession abilities were on full display.
- Jacob de la Rose also quietly played an effective 11:35 of work. He had two scoring chances and was one of the top possession players, seeing twice as many attempts on offence as he did toward his own net.
- We’ve been pretty critical of the power play lately, despite it’s rank near the top of the league, mostly because of the difficulty it has had getting set up. Last night was a great example of how effective the current personnel can be if they’re given a chance to work in the offensive zone. With Galchenyuk back and alongside Radulov, and Beaulieu playing a solid game, the top unit has three legitimate options who can gain the zone with control of the puck, and that will be very difficult to defend against. They shouldn’t be expected to score three times a game, but they will be able to wear down opponents and keep up the pressure with sustained time on offence on the man advantage.
The Canadiens will try to duplicate their effort tonight back home at the Bell Centre, with Carey Price likely between the pipes when the Habs host Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres.