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Canadiens @ Devils game recap: Late push not enough to overcome poor start

The Canadiens were all over the Devils in the third, but began the period in an insurmountable 2-0 hole.

Montreal Canadiens v New Jersey Devils Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

After two very different approaches on trade deadline day, the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils took to the Prudential Center ice with the rosters they’ll have for the rest of the season. With many of their top players either injured or traded away, the Devils had a fairly young lineup for the game, already making preparations for 2019-20.

If the Canadiens thought they were going to have an easy game, they learned they were in for a battle just 15 seconds in. Kyle Palmieri got behind the defence to get in alone on Carey Price. While he didn’t get a good shot away, he showed his opponent, and his teammates, that they weren’t going to pack it in just because they’re destined for a lottery position at the end of the year.

The Canadiens were able to get a bit of possession of their own in the offensive zone, as Phillip Danault’s line had a look for the first goal. But the pressure wasn’t sustained for long as the pairing of Shea Weber and Victor Mete was beaten to the goal. Fortunately for the Habs, the chance wasn’t converted, and the Canadiens survived the early attacks.

Battling in the offensive zone, Andrew Shaw was unhappy with how he was tied up in front of the net, and gave his check a shove after the play to put the Devils on their first power play.

The man advantage was initially interrupted after Miles Wood took a shot in the ankle and needed to be helped off the ice. Then Artturi Lehkonen had a short-handed breakaway with a chance to bust his slump, but found Schneider’s glove instead of the back of the net.

A power play for Montreal presented a chance for the Canadiens to get the game’s first goal, but just one shot on goal in their two minutes wasn’t enough to generate a lead, and the failure to convert proved costly moments later.

With play back in Montreal’s zone, another shot came toward a Devils forward, but this time the contact was on Nathan Bastian’s stick, and the puck deflected in for the rookie’s first NHL goal in his second game, allowing his team to head to the intermission with a lead.

Like clockwork, the second began with an intense effort from Brendan Gallagher & co. to get the puck around the net. It was the start of a period largely controlled by the Canadiens, who spent a lot of time in the Devils end and very little in their own.

But even that brief zone time was enough for the Devils to find their second goal. The Mete-Weber pairing was handed another minus when neither defender could cut off Kurtis Gabriel’s access to the net, and he tapped a cross-crease feed behind Price to put his club up by two.

Looking for a third, former Hab Kenny Agostino was working his way in on a partial break, but was quickly shut down by a strong backcheck from Jeff Petry. It seemed to be the point where the Canadiens decided that enough was enough.

Image credit: Natural Stat Trick

A shift from Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s line had not only great pressure, but the determination to get right to the font of the net, and their shift ended with several attempts at jamming the puck in. The top line followed them up, with Mete jumping up in the slot for a chance. The defenceman had the best look at net, but was just knocked off balance as he walked in on goal and was unable to get his shot away.

The quick burst of relentless play earned the Canadiens another power play, but they were unable to put forth the same effort versus four Devils skaters as they had against five.

Montreal couldn’t regain the same level of play once the strength was evened up, not helped by a bit of hot-headedness from Max Domi to go into the box himself. Ironically, the Canadiens allowed zero shots and had the best chances themselves as Domi watched on, with Nate Thompson and Joel Armia coming close to scoring a short-handed goal.

With a solid penalty kill under their belt, the Canadiens again went to work in the offensive zone, swarming all over the Devils. The shift toward all-out offence did leave Montreal exposed to counter-attacks the other way as the Devils had a few quick-break rush opportunities. Yet the Habs maintained their tenacity,for several minutes, only stopped when Brendan Gallagher was sent off for tripping with a little more than a minute to go.

Montreal finished the second period with a 14-6 shot advantage in the frame, with a few dangerous chances among mostly perimeter attempts, and still no goal scored.

Domi got a bit of retribution for his earlier penalty by drawing a power play early in the third, if you can call being put on the man advantage a benefit. The Canadiens once again saw the two minutes pass without a goal, andalso faced a flurry of shots from the Devils in the opening moments, so it wasn’t much of an advantage at all.

Lehkonen was called for an elbowing penalty after a few minutes of five-on-five play, making the comeback effort seem more difficult. But with Paul Byron on the ice, even a penalty kill offers the threat of offence, and the speedster outraced his man, protecting the puck from a last-ditch swipe, and put the Canadiens on the board.

With the penalty killed, and renewed hope of a comeback, Montreal followed up the goal with two shifts spent firing pucks in rapid succession from low in the offensive zone. Carey Price was called upon to make a great save as Brett Kulak turned the puck over in the neutral zone, but the Canadiens went right back to the attack. The effort proved to be too intense, however, as it forced Hischier to take a penalty and suck all the energy out of the offensive game.

Montreal had a few decent looks in the latter half of the period, but never got back to the rapid-fire approach that appeared destined to lead to a goal, running out of time and succumbing to one of the Eastern Conference’s lowest-ranked teams by a 2-1 score.

It meant a further extension of the road woes as Montreal just can’t get a positive result away from the Bell Centre right now. Tonight they head to Little Caesars Arena needing to get two points to avoid sliding out of the playoff picture.