How to watch
Start time: 7:30 PM EST / 4:30 PM PST
In Canada: Sportsnet (English)
In the Canadiens region: RDS (French)
In the US: NHL Network
In the Devils region: MSG+
Streaming: NHL.tv/NHL Live
After four games without giving a full effort, and going winless as a result, it was expected that a rivalry game with the Boston Bruins would finally get the Montreal Canadiens fully engaged. Two power-play goals against in the first period showed early on that the defensive issues weren’t just the product of a lack of motivation versus non-contenders, but more underlying flaws. Perhaps the Canadiens players themsleves realized that as well, because morale seemed to plummet after a third and fourth goal against separated by an 18-minute intermission, but just a few seconds of gameplay.
The Habs went on to surrender four more goals before the end of the night: one more past Carey Price, and three more behind Keith Kinkaid as the Bruins capitalized nearly every time they got around the crease. Montreal’s fifth consecutive defeat came by an 8-1 score.
It was a home match versus the New Jersey Devils that kicked this current stretch off. The Canadiens will need that to be the opponent they stop the slide against as well, as the two battle in front of an international audience in the only game in the NHL tonight.
Tale of the Tape
|54.0% (3rd)||Corsi-for pct.||47.1% (26th)|
|3.29 (11th)||Goals per game||2.52 (29th)|
|3.42 (26th)||Goals against per game||3.43 (28th)|
|18.9% (17th)||PP%||14.6% (26th)|
|71.6% (31st)||PK%||77.2% (22th)|
Unlike some of the games on the losing streak, the first outing in the season series with the Devils was one in which the Habs were handily outplayed, with shots 43-34 for the visitors, and the only game of the sequence they were below a 59% shot-attempts-for percentage.
The night began well enough for Montreal. They potted the first goal of the game as Brendan Gallagher got his ninth. The second period featured a goal from Nick Suzuki and also a nifty dangle right through the slot from Cale Fleury for the rookie defenceman’s first NHL goal, and only point on the year. Two last-minute goals in the first two periods — another feature of the losing streak — meant that that production was only good for a one-goal lead going into the third. And that’s where things got crazy.
Nearly 38 minutes of the game had played before the first penalty was called, but by the end of the night 12 infractions were recorded on the scoresheet. Not all of those penalties were legitimate, with the worst being a phantom hit-to-the-head call on Brett Kulak that was followed up seconds later by a makeup call. There were a few of those, as one referee tried to compensate for a mistake by the other for most of the final frame.
Max Domi’s double minor was an earned sentence, however, and it was with him in the box that the Devils tied the game. In the dying seconds of the third, Phillip Danault put the puck in the net with a ... pelvic thrust, but after review it was called a “kicking” motion as the act had propelled the puck into the net. One final call went against Danault in overtime as he was called for hooking, and Kyle Palmieri finished things on the power play. The three unanswered goals to end the game were all scored on special teams, as the last-minute goal in the second was netted while the Devils were short-handed as well.
There’s no complicated gameplan for the Canadiens to stop the run of losses at five. They need to capitalize on the chances they get while limiting the prime ones for the opposition. As poor as the defending and goaltending have been, three of the five games have also seen the Habs score two or fewer goals despite possessing the puck more. The team needs to get the puck off the perimeter and closer to the net to really put pressure on Mackenzie Blackwood, while doing the opposite at their own end in front of whichever goaltender Claude Julien decides to run with after Price allowed five goals on 11 shots on Tuesday.
That style of offence is the typical tactic used by Brendan Gallagher on the top line, and how Suzuki and Max Domi have been thriving with Artturi Lehkonen being more of a shooter than a puck-retriever on that trio. Both units are impossible to contain completely if they decide they’re taking control of the game.
The fixes for the defensive issues seem to be easier to say than to implement. The coach has said the team needs to be better defensively, the players admit that the play in their own zone is unacceptable, yet things don’t seem to be getting better. It could be that individual players are trying to do too much of the defending themselves to the detriment of the system, but coverage has been an issue for most of the season, with what was a top-five offence covering up some errors at the start of the year.
The 29th-place Devils shouldn’t scare any club in the NHL, let alone one that should be a playoff team. They don’t score many goals, they give up among the most in the league, and they’ve lost three of their last four games. The Canadiens can’t be thinking of any of that, because they’re in no position to pass judgment on the quality of a team after their run in the last week and a half. As far as they’re concerned, the Devils should be regarded as the league’s most dangerous team, with the effort and commitment level ratcheted up accordingly.