Well, that was certainly some game! You had the New Jersey Devils, who were miserable on the power play, sloppy playing anywhere outside of their own zone for most of the game, and seemed out of sync in general. The visiting Montreal Canadiens were more than happy to shoot themselves in their own foot over and over by way of penalties and giveaways, trying to trap the Devils all game with some mixed success, and sleepwalking through the rest of the game after scoring the game's first goal (particularly in the third period). Neither goaltender was particularly tested and outside of it being Martin Brodeur's 1,029th career game - tying him with Patrick Roy for the all-time record in games played for a goaltender - it was a mostly unmemorable affair.
It really was a game no one necessarily wanted to win, neither team stepped up their play to dictate the tempo or the pace of the game. Yet, thanks to a fluke goal helped by Carey Price and Patrik Elias being at the right place and right time on a rebound, the Devils come away with a 2-1 victory over the Bleu Blanc et Rouge. NHL.com has their recap up complete with the boxscore and other stats.
Read on for my further thoughts on tonight's game, check out Robert's thoughts later on at Habs Eyes on the Prize.
Where do I begin? Well, let's talk about the opposition. On paper, one would wonder why in the world they were in this game. Discipline nearly became a huge issue. They didn't just take 5 penalties in the game, they took 5 penalties within the first 30 minutes of the game and 4 in the first period. They giftwrapped approximately a minute long 5-on-3 for the Devils. The only reason why it wasn't a huge issue was that the Devils did very little with these man advantages.
But put that aside for a moment because I have to make this point. These weren't just minor penalties. Oh, no, they were some incredibly stupid penalties! This included a too many men on the ice penalty, Hal Gill throwing a man down while on offense, Carey Price playing the puck outside of the trapezoid (seriously!), and Jaroslav Spacek breaking a stick. Four of those five were just mindless!
And that makes me more unhappy with the performance of the power play. The Devils had a total of 8:47 on the power play tonight across these 5 minors (Rob Niedermayer's hooking call negated the last few seconds of the power play on Spacek) and what was the result? 3 shots and a shorthanded goal against! Yes! Only 3 shots! And one goal against! It's not even that they didn't score, but that they didn't make Carey Price work hard or really pressure the Montreal penalty killers. I'll be fair and give the Canadiens' PK a gold star, they did their job; but the Devils' power play units made it easy for them at times. Those times, it was like watching a dog defecate. And then there's the shorthanded goal scored by Travis Moen. See for yourself with this video from NHL.com:
I have no words. Wait, that's a lie, I have a few. Ugly. Total breakdown. Awful. Unacceptable. What was Langenbrunner thinking? Don't tell me, he wasn't.
Bizarrely enough, this did absolutely nothing for Montreal. At the time, the Devils were outshooting the Canadiens nearly 2 to 1 and...this didn't inspire the Canadiens. The goal did not give them much of a boost. They went on to put 4 more shots on Martin Brodeur, entirely uneventful shots, and then moved on in the game to put only 11 more on net in total. Even in the second period, where I thought the Canadiens were more effective in getting the puck forward on offense than the Devils, they just didn't turn that into any sustained offensive pressure.
Full credit should go to the Devils defense for closing down on the Canadiens forwards and cleaning up every loose puck available. There were times where they made some dumb passes/clearances, but overall, the Devils looked poised. I felt Johnny Oduya and Colin White in particular played very well. They didn't concede the puck and didn't back down from anyone, be it Mike Cammalleri or lesser players like Sergei Kostitsyn, Tom Pyatt, and Scott Gomez (ASIDE: Did Scott Gomez play? The boxscore said he played 17:14, but truthfully, was he really there the all that much time? I think his sole contribution to the game was having the arena boo him when he was on the ice.) I really can't complain when you hold the opposition to 18 shots in the game. And Martin Brodeur wasn't challenged too much on the majority of those 18 shots. In the defensive zone, the Devils looked good. Outside of that, it was like the team was skating through mud.
What I amazingly can't complain about is the faceoffs. I was certain to write a blistering set of sentences about how the Devils seemingly got tossed from every faceoff and proceeded to lose them. Nope. Per the stats, that only happened 10 times. Moreover, the Devils won 61% of total faceoffs and despite seeing Niedermayer (12 for 18) and Travis Zajac (10 for 16) seemingly get thrown out, they did very well. In fact, the Devils seemingly had more possession of the puck than the Canadiens, especially in the first and third periods. Thankfully, in the first 10 minutes of the first and the last 10 minutes of the game, the Devils actually did something and turned that possession into shots on Price leading to acceptable totals of 8 and 10, respectively, from those periods.
As another detour, when you look at the event summary stats, you realize a number of things. You realize that Zach Parise managed to put 5 shots on net. You realize Brian Rolston and Vladimir Zharkov (who skated hard all night long, unlike most of either team's players) followed behind with 4. And you're aghast that the Devils managed to have 18 officially recorded giveaways. From what I saw, I know full well Montreal was giving it away, but honestly the Devils weren't that much better and all this contributed to and continued to make this game even sloppier. Passes not only missing their targets but going right to the other team - that's terrible. And it shouldn't surprise the Devils if Lemaire makes a point of that tonight or tomorrow.
But let's get back on track and point out how the Devils actually won tonight. In a sloppy second period where the Canadiens turned up the heat to "lukewarm" and the Devils were still out of sync, the fourth line actually gave the Rock something to cheer for. 4 blown power plays in the first period and down by 1 led to boos. But the equalizer surprised and delighted the hometown fans. I'm sure it surprised Ilkka Pikkarainen (the goalscorer) and Carey Price (the goaltender). Here's the video of the goal:
For those who didn't quite catch it in the video, the puck hits off of Price's glove, hits the post, slides into the back of Price's left skate, and goes over the line. Congratulations Ilkka Pikkarainen, you scored not only your first NHL goal but it was important (tied the game) and you did it in a very improbable fashion. This game will certainly last as a memory for Pikkarainen, despite how the game looked like from the observers like us.
Alas, the Devils built on this only slightly as they tightened up on defense but still had very little of an attack until halfway through the period. The top two lines started getting aggressive, increased their hustle, and wouldn't you know it, it actually led to shots on net and a general feeling of excitement in the stands. The Devils, they were doing something and perhaps it could win them the game. Of course, the game winning goal started from a good defensive stop followed by a good outlet pass by Bryce Salvador, and, well, see for yourself:
A great goal by Elias that ultimately ended a really dreary game between both teams. Thank you Rolston for putting the shot on net to begin with and thank you Elias for going to the net to put that home. Above all, thank you for essentially putting the game away at that point as Montreal did very little with 6 skaters in the final 1:14 of the game. Seriously, no shots against and much of it was spent outside of the Devils' zone.
Of course, what does one make of the game overall? The Devils didn't play well, aspects of their performance stuck out as very good (faceoffs, defensive zone play) and others as absolutely terrible (power play), and they pull out a regulation win. The Devils were very fortunate, in my opinion, that Montreal was just as bad if not worse than New Jersey tonight. Last week, the Devils came out in a similar haze against Florida and the Panthers soundly beat them, 4-2. The Devils looked good for maybe 20 minutes total and won tonight. Go figure. Maybe the Panthers are better the Canadiens (actually, per the standings after tonight, they are). What a way to go through your 1,029th career game, eh, Marty?
For the big picture, I hope the team doesn't start to make a habit of having sketchy performances leading to wins. Sure, wins are great. I'll gladly take tonight's win. But developing bad habits aren't worth it and I really hope the Devils don't go into games thinking, "We can be lackadaisical, but be strong enough for a part of the game/come from behind to win." I'd love to see the Devils put out a proper effort against Ottawa on Friday. In particular, I'd love to see the power play be less than useless against Ottawa. (Seriously, the Devils put 3 shots on Price across 5 power plays, I can't get over that, it just makes me want to bang my head against a wall.)
Thanks to Steve for putting up the GameThread, thanks to the commenters and readers, and please leave your thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.