This was going to be a tough week for the New Jersey Devils. Three games on the road. Two back-to-backs. One game on the road. The results? An escape from Tampa Bay with a 5-4 win. A 3-2 shootout win to get revenge on Florida. A huge 6-3 win on Scott Niedermayer Night to beat then-hot Dallas. Tonight, they took on a Montreal team who beat them last week and just fired their head coach this morning in their house. They went up early, lost the lead, equalized, extended the lead, and never looked back. The Devils won 5-3 in regulation. They got all of the points possible, while only dropping one via post-regulation play.
Making tonight even sweeter was the play of Patrik Elias. He wasn't dominant in possession as usual, but he finished positive with a +2 in Corsi. He absolutely crushed a one-timer off of an Ilya Kovalchuk pass to score the Devils' first power play goal. At the time, it gave the Devils a 2-1 lead, so it was an important goal at the time. Dainius Zubrus forced Chris Campoli to turn the puck over in his own end; and Elias picked it up. Elias and Petr Sykora were on a make-shift 2-on-0, they had a give-and-go, and Elias fired that one past the sprawling Carey Price to put the Devils up 4-3 early in the third period. After that goal, the Devils never lost the lead so it stands as the game winning goal. Elias scored on 2 of his 4 shots; and even was positive on faceoffs as he went 6-for-9. The media properly respected his performance by naming him the first star of the game.
Not only were those two goals important goals in the game, but they were personally important for Elias. His first goal tied the franchise mark for goals scored, owned by John MacLean. The second one made franchise history. Elias is now the team's all-time leading goal scorer with 348. He's always had a good shot among his plethora of offensive talents. Tonight, his finishing skills were on full display in front of a sellout crowd in Montreal. The all-time mark is just one more reason why Elias rules. Congratulations to Elias for his hitting that mark tonight - just as the Devils needed.
As usual, I have more to say about tonight's victory, the team's fourth-straight. For the opposition's point of view, please check out Habs Eyes on the Prize.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Highlights: Do you want to see Elias' break the franchise mark for goals along with some other sweet goals by the Devils? Sure you do. Check out this highlight video from NHL.com:
Shots, Shots and More Shots: I'm not familiar enough with the scorer at the Bell Center with respect to whether the overcount shots or not, but the Devils put the Canadiens to the sword in that department. They opened up the game with 7 straight shots on net and ended the first period up 12-6 in shots. In the second period, when Montreal played their best, the Devils still came out ahead 13-11 in shots. With an early lead in the third period, the Devils just took advantage of Montreal's mostly lackadaisical effort by out-shooting them 10-9. It was 10-6 until the final 100 seconds, when Montreal decided to then try for a late lifeline to get back into the game. Overall, the Devils out-shot the Canadiens 35-26. In terms of total attempts, the Devils finished a +12 in Corsi. I think it's fair to say that from this standpoint, the Devils were the superior team on the ice tonight.
Kovalchuk the Distributor: While Elias got two goals, the line that gave Montreal problems at even strength was the Adam Henrique line. No, Zach Parise did not get a point. He tried very hard with 5 shots on net, 8 total attempts, and finished a +4 in Corsi amid 15:16 of hard work at evens. Adam Henrique did a get a point, an assist on the first goal of the game, which goes nicely with his 4 shots on net, 5 total attempts, and a great +10 in Corsi in 16:10 of even strength ice time (18:53 overall). Henrique had a solid night.
Among the three, the most interesting part of their night Ilya Kovalchuk only had 2 shots on net, both on a power play. While that's not really ideal, the fact that his linemates put up 9 shots combined suggest that Kovalchuk was doing his best to set them up, getting in and out of cycles to keep plays going. It definitely worked from a Corsi standpoint as Kovalchuk finished the night at +9, which is also great. He was also successful from a scoresheet standpoint. He set up Elias with a perfect cross-ice pass for Elias' first goal. He hit Dainius Zubrus perfectly at the blueline with a pass that got him into space that led to his goal of the game. You may not like Kovalchuk being a distributor, but just like Elias displayed his finishing skills, Kovalchuk's passing skills were featured in tonight's victory.
The most impressive part of how that line played was who they played more often than anyone else. Per the head to head ice time charts, the Henrique line got matched with Josh Gorges, P.K. Subban, Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, and Andrei Kostitsyn. For the uninitiated, that's Montreal's top defensive pairing and their top line. While Plekanec got 5 shots on net and Kostitsyn got 4 on net; they were largely held in check. All five ended up well below zero in Corsi (Kostitsyn was "the best" at -2); meaning the Henrique line won their match-up. Limiting the other team's best players was a big reason why the Devils got the result they did tonight. Well done.
Subban Technically Scored Two Goals: Subban officially scored one goal tonight. The Devils got into a 5-on-3 penalty killing situation early in the second period. The first penalty came when Mark Fayne hit Alexei Emelin away from the play and into the net. It helped prevent a good chance for Montreal, so it wasn't a dumb penalty to take. About 35 seconds into that penalty kill, Anton Volchenkov cross-checked Kostitsyn by the net - which was kind of dumb to take. With two veteran defensemen in the box, Peter DeBoer didn't have a lot of options on who to send out on the 5-on-3. Bryce Salvador was a given, so the remaining choices were Adam Larsson, Kurtis Foster, and Matt Taormina. Taormina was fresh and given it would be a long 5-on-3 with the long change, DeBoer rolled the dice. It didn't matter since Subban got a shooting lane with at least two guys in front of Martin Brodeur. One slapshot from Subban and the Canadiens get on the board.
Unofficially, that was Subban's second goal of the night. He was a big part of the Devils' first goal back in the first period. After an unimpressive Devils power play, the visitors rolled through the Canadiens down low. Zubrus wins a puck on the half-boards that allowed Petr Sykora to fire a hard shot on an angle. Carey Price made the stop but the puck bounced up into two bodies in front of Price. Subban and Henrique were tied together in front. As they moved, Subban inadvertantly moved his elbow into the puck, which knocked it over Price's shoulder and into the net. It was an accident from Subban, the Devils definitely got a good bounce.
Like a Freight Train Hauling Steel and Stuff: Zubrus had a powerful night. He wasn't completely pounding his opposition in terms of Corsi; he finished a +2 and his most common opponents at evens - the David Desharnais line - finished positive as well. However, he was great along the boards and in forechecking up front. He sensed he could beat on the Canadiens in terms of positioning and physical play. More often than not, he did. He helped Sykora get the puck for his goal, which opened up the game's scoring. While he didn't get an assist on the play, he forced Campoli to cough up the puck that led to Elias' second goal of the game.
His most impressive event was the goal he scored. Kovalchuk sprung him into the zone perfectly at the blueline. Like a freight train, he charged in between Emelin and Subban on a diagonal oath. When he got past Subban, he ripped a shot against his direction. It beat Price, off the post, and into the net. It wasn't just the Devils' second power play goal of the night. It wasn't just a sweet goal. It wasn't just a strike that made it 5-3 New Jersey. Zubrus scored a vampire goal, for lack of a better term. After that strike, the Canadiens played with muted energy for much of the remaining 9:51 in the third period. The fans, previously "ole'ing" as Kovalchuk got the puck up the blueline, were shut up with only boobirds choosing to make some noise. Zubrus' goal sucked the life out of Montreal. And late in the game, who else but #8 was putting pressure on the Montreal D on the forecheck? Wonderful.
Erik Cole Demonstrates What Needs to Be Removed from the Game: Erik Cole took three straight penalties for Montreal this evening. His worst was his second. Adam Larsson got position behind the net and was being pressured from behind. While protecting the puck, Larsson was defenseless from the front. That lumbering oaf Cole saw it as an opportunity to skate in and hit him directly in the head. Larsson didn't go to the locker room; he remained on the bench and continued to play. Hopefully, it will not turn out that he has a concussion or whiplash or any other kind of injury. Cole picked up a minor for an illegal hit to the head, which was absolutely the right call. It wasn't on the level of Tie Domi, but it's the sort of play that really doesn't belong in the game. Hopefully, the league will review the play and punish Cole appropriately.
I Hate This Fourth Line: Well, that's not completely true. I don't hate Ryan Carter. However, the trio of Carter, Eric Boulton, and Cam Janssen just sucks. They were picked on all night long in the limited minutes that they played. They were the only Devils forwards to be negative in Corsi tonight. They played a large part in Campoli's goal tonight, which tied up the game less than 2 minutes after Elias' first goal of the night. Let's break it down. Carter and Janssen seemingly had position on a puck along the boards, but Hal Gill wins it and threads a pass to an open Yanick Weber. Boulton misses completely on the pass when he should have been covering the center point, which forced Adam Larsson to come up high. Weber's shot was blocked, but Larsson lost his stick so the puck slid to a wide open Campoli, who scored. Martin Brodeur probably should have had Campoli's shot with his glove, I will admit that. Yet, there wouldn't have been a shot on net if Janssen or Carter wins the puck or Boulton wasn't so ineffective on defense. By the way, that shift was their first of the second period. If that's a well-rested fourth line, who knows what a tired version would be.
Tonight, they added little to the table and hurt the team. When they were out there, I imagined seeing Mr. Lippman from Welcome Freshman on the corner of my screen saying "Fourth liners, what a curse." I hate this fourth line.
What About the Power Play, Do You Still Hate That?: The Devils power play was all over the place. Over the course of the whole game, I really can't complain. They got 9 shots on net over 5 power plays and scored 2 goals. Montreal does have a good goaltender in Price and a very successful set of penalty killing units. That's all good. Yet, it wasn't perfect. We saw another shorthanded breakaway allowed that led to a miss; and two shorthanded shots by Montreal. Some were good on possession, others really weren't. It's definitely a big step up over past power play performances, but there's more work to do to make it more consistently good.
By the way, Kurtis Foster picked up his first two points as a Devil on the power play. He fed the puck to Kovalchuk before he made his killer passes for each power play goal.
The Best Penalty Kill: Montreal had 4 power play opportunities this evening, including a long 5-on-3. While they scored on the 5-on-3, I still have to praise the PK units. They only allowed 2 shots on net on that 5-on-3 and only one on their 5-on-4 situations. The Devils ultimately out-shot the Canadiens 2-1 when Montreal had a man advantage tonight. I don't know how Dave Barr is doing it, but I'm thankful that he is! Extra special props to Salvador, who played 5:29 out of the team's 6:35 on the PK.
23 Gets Some Love Too: David Clarkson had an interesting night. He put 6 shots on net and had 3 blocked, leading the team with 9 attempts on net. He scored a late second period goal, which tied up the game. Larsson found Clarkson streaking through the neutral zone. The long pass was perfect, right on the tape of Clarkson's stick. Clarkson had Gill beat, Campoli never went up on him, and Price made his move first so Clarkson beat him with aplomb. It turned the tide of the game, since Montreal scored two straight earlier in the second period to go up 3-2. With a new coach, the fans getting more vocal, and actually having a lead for the first time tonight, Montreal would have loved to have ended the second 3-2. Clarkson blew that hope to smithereens and so the second ended tied 3-3.
The third line as a whole had a good night. The line was positive in possession after getting worked over last night. Clarkson was a +2 in Corsi, Mattias Tedenby was a +4 in Corsi (and made some defensive plays - do this more often, Tedenby, and you'll stay on the third line), and Travis Zajac was a +5. While Clarkson fired shot after shot on net; Zajac definitely got in on the action with 3 shots of his own. Throw in 2:02 on the PK along with 13:32 played at even strength, and Zajac's starting to get back into form. Clarkson was the main man offensively, and his goal turned out to be big.
Somewhere, Mike Boone is Gnashing His Teeth: I felt Martin Brodeur had a solid game. He probably should have had the Campoli shot; but he was screened on P.K. Subban's 5-on-3 goal and by Lars Eller's goal in the slot. On the latter, I'm not sure why Elias or Sykora left Eller open, nor why Larsson did nothing to Mathieu Darche who completely screened (both standing and jumping) the goalie. There's nothing Brodeur really could have done about either goal. Nevertheless, Brodeur made 23 stops and helped seal off the win in the third period. He was a positive factor in net tonight in my opinion.
Montreal decided to keep things simple on offense and just get bodies in front, either for screens or for close opportunities on rebounds. Maybe that was a tactical decision by Randy Cunneyworth, Les Habs' interim head coach. Brodeur had to make several point-blank saves, including one big stop on Kostitsyn late in the second period. He also bailed out Larsson when Kostitsyn nutmegged him early in the third. Mike Boone of the Montreal Gazette and Hockey Inside Out refers to Brodeur as "Martin F. Brodeur." No, I can't reveal what the "F" stands probably for, this is a family-friendly blog. Go ask Boone. Tonight, he'll still be grumbling his name.
Emphasize the Forecheck: Sometimes, the Devils' tendency to forecheck with a third period lead can backfire as it creates more space for the opposition to go forward. Tonight, that wasn't an issue. DeBoer correctly identified that Montreal struggled with pressure in their own end and the Devils skaters didn't let up. That's why you saw Zubrus, Parise, Kovalchuk, Sykora, Clarkson, Tedenby, etc. go in deep over and over with a two-goal lead in the dying minutes in the third. Did it work? From a standpoint of scoring, no, the Devils didn't score a sixth goal from it - though they came close. From a standpoint of the general game, you bet. Anytime the crowd starts booing after the Devils back off of a forecheck to make a line change means that the forecheck worked tonight. So does the shot count (35-27).
Third Period Dominance: The Devils entered the third period tied 3-3, +10 in Corsi, and leading in shots 25-17. They finished the third up 5-3, +12 in Corsi, and leading in shots 35-26. That's right, the Devils managed to not only take the lead but also shut out the Canadiens in the third period. They came very close to getting one on the board at the end, but Brodeur and the skaters prevented them from getting a late one at the crease. Believe it or not, that's three straight good third period efforts by the Devils.
The Effect of the Fatigue from Playing on Friday Night: What fatigue?
Again, Congratulations to Patrik Elias: All-time team leader in goals is a nice title to have. Great job in earning it, Patty.
Those are my thoughts on tonight's game, now I want to know yours. Were you pleased with the Devils performance overall? Who did you think have the best game for the Devils? Who do you think had the worst game for the Devils? How did you react when Elias and Sykora had and finished that 2-on-0 early in the third? Wasn't it great that they got some revenge on Montreal? What do you think the Devils need to do better to keep their winning streak alive? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who read and commented in the gamethread, as well as everyone who followed and read @InLouWeTrust on Twitter this evening. Thank you for reading.