Montreal Canadiens @ New Jersey Devils
How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Devils region: MSGSN
Streaming: ESPN+, RDS Direct, TSN+
Though the Toronto Maple Leafs earned an initial boost of energy from having Ryan O’Reilly in their lineup for the first time on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens weathered that early storm, and put 13 shots of their own on target in a first period featuring little in the way of shutdown defence. As Montreal had experienced two nights earlier in Carolina, they couldn’t hold off a superior lineup for the full 60 minutes, and in the end it was a another four-goal loss, this time by a 5-1 score.
Tonight the superior opponent is another top-two seed from the Eastern Conference divisions, the New Jersey Devils. They have only left three points on the board since the All-Star break, putting together a 5-1-1 record to move to 79 points on the season.
It’s been an incredible turnaround for the Devils after last season’s disappointing showing. From a total of 307 goals allowed in 2021-22, they sit at a mere 149 against in 56 games played, and hold the second-best goal differential in the east (Boston leads with an astounding +92, twice the Devils’ mark). As a result, they’re comfortably in a playoff spot with a shot at moving to within a point of top spot in the Metropolitan Division tonight.
Tale of the Tape
|44.1% (28th)||Scoring-chances-for %||54.9% (2nd)|
|2.63 (29th)||Goals per game||3.46 (5th)|
|3.66 (29th)||Goals against per game||2.63 (4th)|
|16.9% (29th)||PP%||20.9% (19th)|
|73.7% (28th)||PK%||80.9% (13th)|
General manager Tom Fitzgerald has formed a solid team from top to bottom, and head coach Lindy Ruff has those players performing well. There are only two regular members of the lineup who have a scoring-chance share below 50% this season, as every line and defence pairing controls the flow of the action.
Leading the way in that category is former Canadiens top-line winger Tomas Tatar. He may only have 31 points this year, but he’s rarely on the ice for a goal against, and that’s why he has a +32 goal differential and even leads the Bruins’ ‘Perfection Line’ in five-on-five goal share, holding the top mark of 74.6% among all players to play at least 25 games.
The one producing the offence is Jack Hughes. Impacted by injuries last year, he’s only missed four games in this campaign, all coming earlier this month following a second straight All-Star appearance. He has two points since his return to the lineup on February 18, raising his point total to 69.
A big part of the story is the improvement New Jersey has seen in the crease. Fitzgerald’s trade for Vitek Vanecek at the 2022 NHL Draft and subsequent two-year contract for his new netminder are proving to be inspired choices. Vanecek has taken firm hold of the starting role, putting up a .917 save percentage in 33 starts. With how the skaters are performing — and have performed in recent years — in front of their netminders, that’s more than enough to keep his team competitive.
The Canadiens would have a tough enough time with the Devils if they had a healthy roster, let alone the one that they’ve flown to Newark with half of their regulars absent. That was true back on November 15 when they lost 5-1 after what had been a fairly solid start to the season, a game in which Hughes led the way with two goals and an assist.
Nine of the 18 skaters who played that night are unavailable to the Canadiens for the second of three matches between these teams this season, including Kirby Dach whose illness will force him to miss a third straight game. But there is some encouraging news for a team that has had little of it regarding sidelined players: Kaiden Guhle will accompany his team on this road trip, which concludes in Philadelphia on Friday. It was announced that he would miss eight weeks back on January 6. On Friday, it will have been 57 days since that terrible looking knee injury sustained versus the Florida Panthers on December 29. Perhaps that is the target for a return to action.
For now, Corey Schueneman will get a second game in his call-up stint. It probably would have been the case regardless of Chris Wideman’s status, but Wideman has also had his name added to the injured list. The same group of skaters that fell to Toronto on Saturday will have to come up with a better performance to keep this one from being a third consecutive lopsided defeat.