Despite multiple losses in the shootout and overtime period recently, the Montreal Canadiens have been playing better hockey of late, gaining points in seven straight games. Opposing them on Tuesday night were the New Jersey Devils, who are led by the NHL’s hottest player in Taylor Hall, who came in with points in 25 straight contests. Honing in on Hall would be crucial for Claude Julien, who entered the contest without his top two goal-scorers, a pair of top-two defenders, and his best offensive winger.
The thrown-together roster was composed of many players playing far above their pay grade, and by the end of the opening period it showed.
While neither team took an early advantage in terms of shots, it was eventually the Devils who broke through first. Will Butcher took the puck in at the point, and with Charlie Lindgren down after possibly being bumped by Patrick Maroon, he rifled a puck on net, and Stefan Noesen got a favourable redirection to open the scoring.
In recent games, the Habs have battled back, or at least attempted to claw their way back into games, while their goaltenders held the fort. That all went out the window when Blake Coleman doubled the Devils’ advantage by outmuscling Noah Juulsen in front of the net, and slotted a loose puck behind Lindgren.
Still, a two-goal deficit is not insurmountable. Not with talent like Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, who have been on fire as of late.
Instead, the Habs lost their composure, taking a pair of extremely ill-timed penalties, which led to the Devils scoring a pair of power-play goals in the final three minutes to make it a 4-0 game, and seeming to all but close the book on the game.
The Canadiens did their best to try to salvage something out of the game as the second period started. Gallagher broke Keith Kinkaid’s shutout bid with a fantastic effort in the offensive zone, just past the midway point of the period. He worked around defenders, got the puck down low, and eventually beat the goalie with a quick shot in close.
Then Rinat Valiev took a penalty, and in just seven seconds the Devils scored a third power-play goal in four attempts.
To pile on, Brian Boyle capitalized on an unaware Byron Froese to score the Devils’ sixth goal. Froese cleared a rebound away from Lindgren, only for Boyle to crush Froese with a hit, and swipe the puck into the open net, putting the deficit at five.
Just before the period ended, Jacob de la Rose was finally rewarded for his stronger play of late, when he snapped a 19-game goalless drought. Jordie Benn let the shot fly on net, Phillip Danault smacked it towards Kinkaid, and de la Rose was in the perfect spot to kick the puck to his stick, and coolly backhand it into the net to again reduce the lead to four goals.
It took until the final period, but the scrappy Habs of the previous two weeks finally appeared when a comeback appeared to be at its most unlikely.
With just over five minutes remaining, the suddenly hot de la Rose chipped another part of the Devils lead away with his second goal of the game. Mike Reilly started the play in his own end, bringing the puck out and finding Andrew Shaw streaking up the wing. With Shaw on the outside, de la Rose crashed into the slot, and tipped home a perfect pass from Shaw to cut the lead to three goals.
With under a minute left, Froese also cashed in on the Devils’ doorstep, smacking home a loose puck as Nicolas Deslauriers fell on top of Kinkaid. After a short review, the goal would stand, and Froese’s third goal of the year made it just a two-goal game with about a minute remaining.
That 6-4 score was as close as the Habs got. Even with Lindgren on the bench they couldn’t find another goal late in the game to somehow pull off an improbable comeback in Newark.
- Through 50 or so minutes in this game, the Canadiens looked like an abject disaster of a hockey team. They couldn’t generate any sustained offence. They couldn’t stay out of the penalty box. And they couldn’t kill any of said penalties. Then, all of a sudden, they turned it on just enough to claw their way back into a game they had no business being in. That’s the silver lining to take away from a game like this. It helps the team in the long run, as they put up a competitive score, but gained no points as they continue their tank going forward.
- Despite the same number of shots on goal, the Canadiens still gave up six goals, due almost totally in part to their inability to kill penalties with any sort of consistency. But, if we’re going to try and pick out the positives, it’s worth celebrating the resolve of Charlie Lindgren making an unbelievable glove save on Michael Grabner in a 6-3 game, or Jacob de la Rose continuing his strong play, despite a bad penalty early in the game.
The road trip continues for Montreal now, as they head off for the Sunshine State, where they’ll face the red-hot Florida Panthers on Thursday night. Following that they’ll renew hostilities with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, and if the prior games are any indication, it should be a “can’t miss” affair once again.