The visitors, a team that seriously needs some wins to get back into thinking about playoff contention, came into the Rock with a chip on their shoulder. They tried as hard as they could to put the New Jersey Devils into a deep hole, and looked to do just that early on. The Devils even helped out a few times. The visitors threw hard hits, high hits, illegal hits that weren't called, and all other kinds of fouling play. The visitors threw rubber at the net and took advantage of a Devils defensive effort that was similar to what was seen on Tuesday: inconsistent, wavering between solid and pylon-esque. They drew metaphorical blood with two goals within the game's first 10 minutes. It was so bad, Peter DeBoer used his timeout after Montreal's second goal just to get a message through to his players - and they still got outplayed for much of the first period. Montreal drove to the net when they could and found success three times tonight. The Devils offense took a while to get going and only got a goal when Carey Price completely misplayed an otherwise harmless shot from Zach Parise. It made the score look flattering, but it was apparent that the Canadiens were the better team early on. It got worse early in the second period. Montreal went up 3-1 due to a power play miscue resulting in the team's 13th shorthanded goal against this season. Was there an immediate response? Hardly, the Devils certainly weren't playing like a team down a few goals.
The game was heated, it was downright nasty, and given the early advantage, one would have expected Montreal to run away with the game. A shorty after a period of getting beaten on the ice and having a goal denied by the officials (the right call, in retrospect) would lead one to that expectation. It was reasonable to think the Devils were done before the halfway mark of the game. At some point, however, the Devils started fighting back.
They got a power play mid-way through the second that actually wasn't terrible and ineffective and it resulted in a goal against the league's top penalty kill. It not only made the score look more competitive, but the Devils players and the fans started generating a bigger buzz. Martin Brodeur demonstrated that he can still keep a team in the game in spite of their flaws. The Devils, slowly but surely, started to break into Montreal's zone and get rubber on Carey Price. They got enough of an attack to suggest that at 3-2 going into the third period, the game was still up for grabs. The defensive effort was as loose as the referee's idea of discipline tonight; but the game was not out of doubt.
The Devils broke through in the third period. They equalized in the third when Dainius Zubrus tipped an Alexei Ponikarovsky shot past Price. They pushed for a fourth goal and got rewarded late when Ilya Kovalchuk shanked a shot and the puck thankfully sailed right to Parise at the side of the net. Price could do nothing about Parise burying it into the twine to put them up 4-3. The Canadiens were stunned. They pulled Price and the Devils largely controlled play. After missing on a few empty net tries and Montreal icing the puck (seriously), the Devils eventually got a clearance to David Clarkson. The man who deflected Ilya Kovalchuk's shot in on the power play picked up his second of the night on the empty netter. The Canadiens, who played the game with tough and sometimes down-right dirty edge, got their licks on the Devils. They had them dazed. But the Devils recovered, kept at it in the game, and ultimately knocked them out in regulation. The Devils didn't leave the game unscathed - Adam Larsson suffered a bruise to his lower back after a big hit by P.K. Subban - but they can hold their heads up high. They won tonight's battle 5-3.
I have a few more thoughts about tonight's win after the jump. For an opposition perspective, 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 Highlight Video: There sure are a lot of highlights in this one from NHL.com. Between the Devils-Rangers and tonight's game, it may be welcomed if the Devils can have a less frantic and dramatic win for a change.
Thank You for Your Patience: SBNation had some technical difficulties during most of the game. So I apologize that the gamethread wasn't available during an eventful game like this one. Everything seems to be good now. Thanks to the technical support staff for getting it fixed and to Travis Hughes for putting up with my complaints about it - which came out of emotions that were admittedly driven by tonight's game. Most importantly, thank you for your patience and continued patronage at In Lou We Trust and other fine SBN sites.
Dangerous: Chris Lee and Ghislain Herbert were your referees for this evening and they were awful. The penalties they whistled were legitimate. Yes, Patrik Elias' hit on Mike Blunden was in the numbers and it deserved a boarding penalty. However, what made me disgusted in their performance was all of the non-calls. Mathieu Darche rams Adam Larsson head first into the glass and there was no call. Larsson eventually got up and kept playing; but that was just a dangerous action and the lack of a call is just further evidence that the NHL isn't really serious about protecting players. Erik Cole became notorious in my eyes tonight. While he rightfully tagged with two minor penalties, but amazingly got nothing for his high hits, elbows, and late hits. The Devils weren't completely clean either: Elias hit on Blunden was bad; and Adam Larsson apparently slewfoot Louis Leblanc. According to this post game post by Tom Gulitti, the league is looking at a some of these incidents tonight for additional discipline. That there has to be additional discipline further shows the lack of control Lee and Herbert had on tonight's game. This is how players get hurt. Yet, the hockey guys running the show will continue to not understand that.
Discipline Aside: I can understand if Elias gets suspended for his hit. If the league is consistent, they'll do the same to Darche, who hit Larsson in a similar fashion tonight but didn't get called for it. The chances of that happening, however, are slim. Almost like a unicorn.
The F is for Fantastic: References to Mike Boone aside, I'm the most glad that Martin Brodeur got a win out of what happened this evening. Brodeur was beaten three times and he had no shot on any of them. Let's describe them.
The first goal was on a fluke. Rene Bourque gets denied by Brodeur at the right post and he just flings a puck up at David Desharnais, who was in the crease. The puck bounces of Desharnais' person and drops into the net. There's nothing that could have been done there.
The second goal against was just infuriating. Five Devils were bunched up at the left sideboards. Yanick Weber gets a shot on net from distance and Andrei Kostitsyn is right there at the crease. It was literally just Kostitsyn and Brodeur. The only way Brodeur could have prevented what eventually happened if he somehow knocked that puck into orbit. Kostitsyn had the time and space to get the rebound and do a spin move to get it around Brodeur. There was no help at all for the goaltender because the Devils were defending like children in their own end. It is inexcusable to leave anyone that open in that part of the ice in a 5-on-5 situation.
Then there was the third goal against. Kurtis Foster is forced behind the blueline into the neutral zone with the puck on a power play. He stupidly plays it soft off the boards off a turnaround pass. Since the Devils are trying to get on-sides, Hal Gill sees Tomas Plekanec wide open and hits him with a pass. Plekanec is off to the races and Brodeur comes up with a big right pad save to deny him the shorthanded goal. Foster backchecks to inexplicably pick up Plekanec, and no one else (it could have been you, Ilya Kovalchuk) is there to stop Darche from easily putting the rebound into the net.
Brodeur was beaten three times on second chances plays, which says more about how the guys in front of him played than Brodeur. If you want to believe he could have done better on any of those goals, then feel free to believe what you want. I just don't see it. Even if you're inclined to fault the goaltender for not being a literal brick wall, even the most cynical Devils fans have to admit that Brodeur made several key stops tonight. He denied Max Pacioretty early on when Montreal got a good scoring opportunity to start the game, and he did it again near the end of the first period in the slot. He got his body on a Kostitsyn shot off a 2-on-1 in the second period. Brodeur came up big on Rene Bourque when the winger overpowered Ponikarovsky to get a hard shot off from the high slot in the second period. After Zubrus tied up the game with his deflection, Brodeur absolutely robbed Tomas Plekanec in the slot a little over a minute later; and not long after that kept a second-chance shot by Josh Gorges out of the net. Brodeur's numbers may not look good; but tonight, he showed that he can definitely perform. Thankfully, the Devils skaters did not waste it and the offense made up for the earlier miscues tonight.
Poor Price: The first goal he allowed was simply terrible. Parise doesn't shoot from distance very often and Price just misplayed it. That one was on him. The other three really couldn't be put on him. Clarkson re-directed a Kovalchuk shot into the net; Zubrus tipped a Ponikarovsky shot in front of him; and Parise pounded his game winning goal on his flank. I'm a little sympathetic for him - but only a little since, you know, he was the opposing goaltender.
Attack Could Have Been Better: Furthering the notion that the Devils didn't really play like they were losing, the Devils' team Corsi was a -5 tonight. Some guys were just not effective at all in getting the play forward, like Matt Taormina (-6), Steve Bernier (-5), and Jacob Josefson (-4). Patrik Elias surprisingly struggled with a -4 and as the game went on, DeBoer wisely mixed up his lines. It made sense, it's not like the standard lines were getting the job done after putting up a mere 14 shots in 40 minutes in a game they were losing less than 5 minutes into the game. Also, the Devils went with 7 defensemen, which left 11 forwards. This meant Ryan Carter and Eric Boulton, among others, got shifted around a little bit. And I do mean little since both players didn't even play 7 minutes.
That said, the Devils did obtain success. After all, they scored 5 goals tonight. Parise got 3 shots and scored on two of them as did Clarkson, Kovalchuk led the team with 5 and contributed with
two three assists, and Zubrus not only got a goal but ended up with the best Corsi value among regular Devils at +3. The main attackers hovered between -2 and +3, so they weren't horrid and all of those guys except for Clarkson played over 20 minutes. This should be of no surprise, the top six carries this team's offense. As much as I liked Kovalchuk turning it on after the first period (4 SOGs in second, 1 SOG in the third and set up GWG), Parise hustling forward, and Clarkson and Zubrus making things happen down low; they weren't dominant. But that's OK - they made it happen tonight. It would have been better if Elias and Petr Sykora - who actually did play tonight, believe it or not - did more.
Going forward, I really do want to see a good start from this team instead of needing to respond in the second period. I think the scorer shorted the Devils on a few shots in the first period, but 11-6 or 11-7 after one really isn't much better than 11-5. With two afternoon games coming up, it'll be important to get that sorted.
Faceoffs Were Off: The Devils went 27-54 on draws. That wasn't good. Josefson, Zubrus, and Elias were beaten soundly tonight, going 8-for-20, 7-for-16, and 4-for-14 respectively. That's another area the Devils should consider working on in the future.
Power Play Was Off Except for That One: The Devils did score a power play goal that began their comeback effort tonight. It was off a good play, where the Devils were set up in position and created a good opportunity to shoot. I have to highlight that because it was one of the few times the Devils did that tonight. On their four power plays, the Devils ended up with four shots on net. The Canadiens do have an excellent set of penalty killers like the Devils, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised with their general noneffective play. What really bothers me is that the Montreal PK got four shorthanded shots on net! Two were bang-bang plays; Plekanec's breakaway was followed by Darche's rebound goal. Still, when the power play is conceding just as many shooting opportunities as they create, it means they didn't perform well. But hey, at least the Devils went a month in between shorthanded goals.
Kurtis Foster Was Off - Literally: Foster was just straight up bad tonight. He was one of the Devils on the ice that got bunched up and left Kostitsyn wide open to score. Foster created the shorthanded goal with a stupid, no-look, soft bounce off the boards and went after the wrong guy backchecking on that play. Foster was benched after that play and he completely deserved it. In 3:56 of even strength time, Foster managed a -3 in Corsi which is pretty heinous. Foster admitted in this postgame post by Gulitti that he was benched. I can understand why DeBoer would want to save some face for his performance; but I can appreciate Foster's honesty. He was bad and with seven defensemen playing, DeBoer was able to keep him on the bench for a majority of the game without seriously leaning on someone else. Taormina wasn't great but he should be considered as the #6 defender at this juncture.
I Hope It's Not Serious - Larsson Edition: Larsson was pounded tonight, but the one that sent him off came from a clean hit by P.K. Subban. I admit, I thought it was dirty at first and said so on Twitter; but I was wrong. I thought it was another cross-the-line moves by a Canadien, something witnessed by the thousands at the Rock this evening. But, no, I was mistaken. It was just hard and it caught the rookie off balance. After the game, Gulitti reported it was a lower back bruise. I hope that's all it is because the Devils can ill-afford to lose another 20+ minute defender. Especially if Foster keeps playing like he has been.
Fine, It Wasn't A Goal: The Devils seemingly got a second goal early in the second period. During a penalty kill, Kovalchuk was sprung through the neutral zone. He was forced to his backhand, and Price made the save. Or did he? The puck laid right on the goal line and wasn't really covered by the goaltender. There was no whistle and so Ponikarovsky charged in to knock it in. Price reacted as if it did; and one would think Ponikarovsky would have easily hit it the inch or so needed to make it count. Alas, the ref ruled no goal. After a review by Toronto, the call stood. While I and the Devils faithful certainly weren't happy about it, the reason was that the puck wasn't clearly seen over the line. Since the initial call was no goal, the lack of that kind of evidence meant the call wouldn't be overturned. It could have proven as a pivotal point in the game, especially since Montreal made it 3-1 not long after the Devils killed off Elias' boarding call. Fortunately, it did not come back to haunt the Devils.
Enforcer?: I've made no secret of my opinion about enforcers. For the sake of argument, let's put that aside. Given all that happened tonight, wouldn't a guy like Eric Boulton do something about what Montreal was doing physically tonight? If not, then what's his purpose on the team? Sure, Boulton wasn't too bad in his limited action; but if he was signed to be a tough/gritty player/enforcer, then we have to ask the question.
Iced: The Devils played with a little fire trying to get that empty net goal, but as it turned out, it wasn't an issue. The Devils got clearances and possession with little trouble when Montreal pulled Price. Montreal got nothing on Brodeur, they did little with the icing the Devils gifted and Tomas Kaberle gave the Devils a gift of an icing of their own not long afterwards. Clarkson sealed the game off and that's what a team needs to do when up a goal and the other team has six skaters. Funny how a 6-on-5 situation showed the Devils defending at their best this evening (PK too, I suppose, they were awesome too).
Scott Gomez Has No Goals: I figured I should end this recap with that reminder.
That's my take on tonight's game. What did you think of the Devils game? Did you see it as a long fight in the big picture as I did? If not, then how did tonight's game look to you? What do you think the Devils need improve upon in future games - get better starts, defend better, etc.? Who was the best Devil on the ice in your opinion? How did you react when Parise scored with 2:44 left to play? Outside of Foster and the fourth liners, who was the worst Devil on the ice in your view? Will the team have enough gas in the tank for a back-to-back set after two physical, up tempo games in a row? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who attempted and did get into the Gamethread, and thanks to those who followed @InLouWeTrust during the game. Thank you for reading.