The New Jersey Devils decisively defeated a depleted Canadiens lineup 4-1 at the Rock this evening. They started with Jaroslav Halak in net, ended with Marc Denis skating slowly off the ice from the crease at the end of regulation. Scott Clemmensen made a number of strong saves and the Devils didn't let up in rushing off a defensive stop throughout the game. He only got beat once by a well-place shot above his shoulder from rookie and Canadien call-up Max Pacioretty. The game was Clemmensen's 10th start, and according to Chere, he was quite pleased. He should be, he was named the first star of the game for his efforts. Though he was quick to point out that the game was closer than what the score indicated:
"It's more rewarding to beat the teams that you respect more," Clemmensen said. "It was a tough game. It was a 2-0 game because it was a two-goal lead, which is very deceiving in this sport. We had a very difficult time getting that fourth goal, even though we did eventually. If they get that second goal, it makes it a one-goal game and the complexion of the game changes a lot.
"A 4-1 final score I don't think was very indicative of the type of game it was tonight."
Too true. But I think he's being modest, here. Had Clemmensen not been as good as he was, the Canadiens would have scored more than just the one and it would have given the Habs faithful a lot more to cheer about. They were loud to start the game with their "GO HABS GO" and their "Ole" soccer-chant (ASIDE: I'm pretty sure you do that chant when you're winning, not at 0-0). The Devils defense was in a bend-not-break mode, letting the Canadiens take the initial shot but clean up on the resulting rebounds and loose pucks. So the Canadiens outshot New Jersey 34-29. But the defense didn't allow many of those second-chances and the Canadiens will be left wondering what could have been on the scoring chances they did have.
They'll also be wondering whether missing Carey Price will be the proverbial straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. The Canadiens were missing quite a few players to injury and Jaroslav Halak did not have a good first period. The Devils' offense attempted and nearly succeeded on deflecting long shots to beat Halak; only to result in the deflection going just wide. However, Brian Gionta eventually found that a low shot at his 5 hole would be just as good of an idea. And amazingly, it beat Halak for the game's first goal. And after Pacioretty's goal, a little less than 2 minutes later, Parise took a similar shot down low and, lo and behold, it beat Halak. These are really goals that he really should have stopped but instead, the Devils led 2-1 after one.
Halak let up one more, which I'll show later on, and then he was pulled in intermission. Not sure why because the third goal against Montreal was almost a work of art. Marc Denis started the third period and this guy was shaky tonight. I believe the first shot against him, a hard, high shot from Travis Zajac, beat Denis but not the iron. Not what you want from a goalie in relief; I don't think he attempted to stop it! Denis continued to look and be shaky all period and it was fitting that Jamie Langenbrunner scored - from a wicked, no-look pass by Parise behind the net - on a one-timer right to where Denis' glove was only for Denis to miss it. Brutal goalkeeping from Denis, and he got beat on one he was in position to stop. If this is a sign of the netminding Canadiens fans will start praying en masse for Price to get healthy!
I should also note that as the game went on, the Habs fans who made the trip to Newark became a lot less quieter. In fact, by the last 5 minutes of the third period, the only time you heard "GO" and "HABS" together was in the phrase "GO HOME HABS" followed by the traditional, "Na, na, na, hey, hey, gooooood-byyyyyye." Indeed, they will go home and maybe they will have better luck with Florida on Sunday. I guess they only sing when they are winning?
The Devils offense found success mostly on the rush. Possession was to be had, but the rush is really where the Devils got most of their goals. The power play, not so much, they had one in the second period that was the best a power play could be without scoring a goal. Possession in the attacking zone for nearly the full 2 minutes; lots of calm, puck movement, placed shots on net, and the Devils used the momentum on immediate shifts after the power play to apply more pressure. Of course, the power play following that nearly reminded me of the brutal ones in the Dallas game. Still, special teams wasn't so bad - especially with the penalty killers getting the job done all night long.
Lastly, there was a moment in tonight's game in the second period. John Madden didn't just score, he scored a fantastic goal on a 2-on-1. Somehow, and I never thought I would say this, Mike Rupp and John Madden were both sprung on a pass to Madden by Jay Pandolfo. They both found theselves on a 2-on-1. Madden just unleashed a fantastic shot that I don't think any of the legendary Montreal goalies could have stopped, much less Jaroslav Halak. Just look at it from NHL.com:
The goal was Madden's first in 24 games, according to Gulitti. Let me tell you, that is a brilliant way to break a drought! You're not going to see many goals scored like that, especially considering the principals and the situation! Great job to Madden. And that goal wasn't just one more on the scoreboard, it really put the screws to Montreal, who didn't really respond in the second period.
I said in the preview that the Devils didn't just need to bounce back, but excel. They did just that by making the most of chances against Halak and Denis. Good job to the Devils. This was a strong start to 2009. Now the Devils can look to continue the winning against Ottawa on Sunday.