1. Period IV: A New Hope
Thursday night’s game began without much to cheer for. Stefan Noesen’s goal a mere 1:21 into the game set the tone for a familiar feeling of despair. The Devils overwhelmed Montreal in the first 10 minutes of the game.
Andrew Shaw helped regain some of the lost momentum with a very impressive tip-in of a Jordie Benn bomb, but after allowing a five-on-three power play, the Habs gave up the game’s control to New Jersey. It wasn’t until roughly the same early point of the third that the Canadiens began generating more offensive chances.
As the clock ticked off the third period, one wouldn’t be faulted for wondering whether Montreal deserved the single point for making it to OT. Instead, Charles Hudon used the Force to one-handedly feed Tomas Plekanec, while fending off all three Devils’ skaters for what would become the game-winner.
Two points were earned in a game where the Habs could have had none, and that’s just the kind of luck they will need on nights when their play is off for the balance of the season.
2. The Phantom Menace: The Habs’ power play
Montreal killed three penalties while having their power play shut out as many times.
The Canadiens killed off the five-on-three power play by the Devils, and later a Joe Morrow minor for hooking. The penalty-killers did their job, including Carey Price, who stopped all five shots he faced with fewer than five skaters in front of him.
The Habs had three power plays of their own and failed to score on all three. In fact, they failed to generate a single shot on Cory Schneider during their six minutes of time with a man advantage.
The Canadiens had a comically difficult time setting up in New Jersey territory, and on the occasions they did, their shots failed to hit the Devils’ net. The team looked far better at five-on-five than on the PP.
3. The Force needs awakening
The Habs skated off the ice with a win and two crucial points against an Eastern Conference team, but the game was not a statement win. The team wasn’t playing poorly, but they weren’t playing well.
This Canadiens team, if it is going to have a serious shot at post-season play, needs to come out with all guns blazing every single game. It sounds impossible — and it very well may be — but when they coughed up an early goal, it took several minutes for the Habs to recover their wits and get back to business.
Perhaps lucky that their opponent was missing Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson, Montreal got away with their lack of urgency, but will not always be so lucky.
4. Attack of the clones: The Habs’ fourth line
Hands up if, at the halfway point of the game, you believed the fourth line to be the Canadiens’ best. Even if you didn’t put your hand up, you had to think about it, didn’t you?
The Rocket Line’s few offensive chances were among the more exciting the Habs had to offer the Devils. Over the last few games since being put together, the trio has been on the ice for 18 GF and only four against. Having an energetic line that can put opponents on their heels once or twice a game is great.
Nicolas Deslauriers has surprised everyone with his consistent play. He’s physical enough, a good skater, and creates scoring chances in the offensive zone. Daniel Carr tore it up in the AHL earlier this year, and he has been playing some very good hockey in Montreal since being called up.
Montreal’s fourth line of Byron Froese, Deslauriers, and Carr were outplayed by their matchups on Thursday night. They failed to generate much offensive potential while giving up some on their defensive coverage. Their Corsi was awful and they managed to get all of two shots (both Deslauriers’) on net.
So it wasn’t a great, nor a terrible night for the three, who gave up as many goals as they scored: none. The end result was capable time-killing play for players who all started the year in the AHL.
The bigger problem in all this is Montreal has let its fourth line shine by the sheer absence of other sprightly contributions. Not to take away from Carr and Deslauriers, who for all intents and purposes are playing solid NHL hockey, but we’d be somewhat less impressed by comparison if the chief offensive players were scoring more.
5. From a certain point of view
The sellout crowd, or packed house is often an intimidating thing to face for road teams. Montreal has been known to be very loud and very hard to play against, and sometimes incredibly difficult to play for as well.
There were some photos of the more empty sections (in the cheaper seats, as well) in Montreal on Thursday, despite what you may hear about either a sellout or full building. Most games are sold out if you consider that resellers buy tickets to put online, but that doesn’t mean fans hold tickets for every seat, nor that attendance is actually full.
It could be the holiday season has kept some from sporting events, or the arrival of snowy cold weather has disrupted plans. Or it could be a message from fans that the Habs simply aren’t worth the price of admission these days.
If the team starts stringing together wins again, the building will be stuffed to the rafters with rabid, ranting Habs fans once more, and this stretch will be forgotten until the next one.
Bonus takeaway: These aren’t the droids you’re looking for
It’s time for the Jonathan Drouin at center experiment to end. At 22 years of age and only in his fourth NHL season, Drouin has played 164 of his 191 big-league games as a winger.
The addition of Drouin has been good for the Canadiens, and the Ste-Agathe native has contributed to a fair share of the team’s goals this year. His scoring pace is not far off from last year, but could be even better if he was playing his natural position.
It’s a mystery why the Habs have difficulty playing forwards in their natural position; the most obvious subject being Alex Galchenyuk. The American is having a bit of a resurgence of his offensive game, and yet it’s unanimously agreed he’s unlikely to get a look as a center, instead solidified in a role on the wing.