I wish the New Jersey Devils had a superior record right now. If they didn't need results to keep pace with the rest of the Metropolitan Division, then we could just chalk tonight's game up as an unfortunate loss and move on. However, the Devils do need points. Getting one is better than nothing, but tonight's game could have been a victory against the Montreal Canadiens. And I'm sure there are some fans who would say it should have been one. Given how the game went overall, I'm not sure where I stand on this one.
On the negative side, the Devils got pounded for most of the first period. Yes, the shots ended 13-9 which doesn't look bad in the bigger picture. However, most of those nine shots came from two awesome offensive shifts where the Devils put up three to four on Peter Budaj. Montreal scored first when Daniel Briere identified Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta in front of the crease with Anton Volchenkov. He threw it across, it got to Gionta, and it's an easy goal past Cory Schneider. While the Devils got going in the second and third period with more offense and glorious chances to score, it wasn't until Budaj got caught with his legs open that they scored in the third. In the interim the Devils left a lot on the proverbial table while Montreal was more than holding their own. There were plenty of moments where Montreal came close to adding to their lead at the cost of Devils' errors. After the Devils went up 2-1, the Canadiens drew a call, Lars Eller tied it up after that penalty was over on his own rebound, and within the final minute, they got an equalizer off a David Desharnais deflection in front off a non-clearance by Adam Henrique (he didn't have a good game). That's two leads blown and that's never good. They held steady in OT and beat Schneider cleanly twice in the shootout to take the win. Yuck.
On the positive side, the Devils responded well to a bad first period with a much better effort for the remaining 45 minutes. While the Devils seemingly failed to capitalize on chances in every way possible (e.g. a puck bouncing over Andrei Loktionov's stick, Michael Ryder sailing a shot high and wide in a one-on-one with Budaj), they didn't get frustrated to give up on the attack. They kept piling on pucks, Montreal defenders had some issues, and the Devils were able to ring up three goals past Budaj in the third period. Loktionov slung a low shot through Budaj to tie it up. Ryder picked a corner from the circle to make it 2-1. After Eller's goal, P.K. Subban gave the Devils a big gift by falling down with the puck. Patrik Elias pounced on it and beat Budaj high to make it 3-2 late. The late equalizer was literally bad fortune as opposed to bad play. As Subban slewfooted Elias to deny him a chance at the puck, Gionta just threw up a desperate shot from the point. Desharnais managed to tip it without his stick going above the crossbar and it dropped in. On another night, maybe it goes elsewhere or he doesn't touch it or Subban gets called for a slewfoot. In OT, the Devils had the better of chances and were a poke away from a winner. While the shootout was a loss, at least they scored a goal, thanks to the called up rookie, Reid Boucher. The Devils managed to put up 34 shots, got three goals in one period, and had plenty of good performances. It wasn't as if they got wrecked by Montreal as it appeared to be after the first period. The shootout loss is a disappointment but it could've been worse.
Admittedly, I'm still in the middle after considering both sides. But it really doesn't matter. The result is the result. The home-and-home yielded one point despite some good play. Now the Devils need something out a tough back-to-back set. We'll see what they do on Friday. But let's consider what happened tonight first.
The Opposition Opinion: The short recap at Eyes on the Prize is called top six points but there are clearly many more than six bullet points. Anyway, theactivestick declares that Montreal got two wins in this home-and-home they didn't deserve. Gee, thanks?
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights, including a crazy third period:
Debut: Reid Boucher had a very good night in my opinion. He played 12:30, he got two shots on net, he got shifts in the third period, he set up Ryder's goal, he sprung Ryder for a breakaway in the second period that he botched, he drew a hooking call from Brendan Gallagher, and he scored the team's first shootout goal of the season. On top of all of that, while protected, he came out super in possession with 13 for and 4 against in 5-on-5 play. Even if Boucher didn't get an assist, I'd say he did quite enough with his ice time to get a further look. He skated with energy and purpose. I hope Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson were taking notes on how to make the most of an opportunity.
The fans at the Rock chanted his name after it was announced he got his first NHL point. I'm sure the fact he scored a shootout goal only adds to his appeal. I don't know how long he'll actually be here, but I'll tell you what: I'm very interested to see what he does for an encore on Friday night.
Wait, Who Was That Wearing #17?: Michael Ryder arguably had his best game as a New Jersey Devil tonight. He was firing shots and actually got many of them on target. Yes, one of his three misses came on a breakaway. But that didn't get him down as he rang five on net. His goal was simply beautiful. He was good in possession and he was skating rather well. I don't know if Peter DeBoer, another coach, or someone told him he needed to do better. I don't know whether the goal he had on Monday just "flipped a switch" for him and he started playing with more gusto. Tonight, he made an impact I hadn't seen from him. I hope this is a sign of better things to come from Ryder.
Why He's a Regular: Andrei Loktionov wasn't scoring much, wasn't playing a whole lot, and worries started to set in on whether he should be in the lineup. Loktionov showed off exactly why he's been a regular as opposed to some extra forwards. He was swift tonight and won plenty of pucks. His keep-in led to Ryder's goal and his own goal came off a good, low shot. I was glad to see him score it because A) it tied the game up, B) it rewarded another good shift by #21, and C) it would get people to forget that a bouncing puck denied him an empty net in the second period. Loktionov also did well on the penalty kill tonight against an excellent Montreal power play. By the third period, he was getting shifts away from Tim Sestito and Cam Janssen and shifts with NHL players. When DeBoer shortens the bench for you, then you're doing really well. Like with Ryder, I hope he can continue the good play.
Not So Good, Rico: Tonight was definitely not one of Adam Henrique's better nights. While he had a couple of shots, play didn't always go forward when he was out there. Worse, he was easily seen on the two goals against in the third period. #14 was facing the wrong way, watching the play instead of Lars Eller sneaking into the slot. When Alex Galchenyuk's wraparound went astray, Eller was able to put it on Schenider and then get his own rebound. Henrique was in the right spot but not at all in the right position. Had Henrique been facing out like he should have, then he would have picked up Eller and denied him. As for the third goal, he did retrieve the puck as Subban took out Elias. He decided on banking the puck low to try and get it out. I think he had the time to turn, he definitely could have flung it up to make it harder to retrieve. But all it did was allow a crashing skater at the point to keep it and rip it. That skater was Gionta and it led to a crushing equalizer.
Well, They Are Rookies: The pairing of Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill wasn't so hot tonight, and they were later split up. Gelinas wasn't too bad but he made some real odd decisions in his own end. He hit a post, but most of his shooting attempts didn't get to Budaj. I think he could serve to take a few wrist shots to help get those shots out quicker, but I think he'll be OK. Merrill had a rough go of it. While he didn't cause a goal against, he came very close when he giftwrapped a puck for Max Pacioretty in overtime. Thankfully, Schneider bailed him out. But the Canadiens just picked on Merrill. He was on the ice for the most attempts and shots against at 5-on-5. While I understand that the coaches like him, he had some real adventures in his own end and he didn't do much in Montreal's. Like Gelinas, I think he'll be OK but it's worth pointing out that he wasn't all that good this evening.
Poor Travis: Three shots including a point-blank one-timer in the slot, three attempts blocked, and a shootout attempt denied. Travis Zajac keeps getting opportunities but they haven't dropped in yet. If he keeps getting them, and his line has continued to generate these chances, then I'm sure he'll score on them. Alas, that day has yet to come. Overall, it wasn't a great night from Dainius Zubrus, Zajac, and Jaromir Jagr, but they did have some strong shifts to show that they can be "heavy" and effective.
Returning Home: Brian Gionta doesn't really get much attention for the fact that his career started in New Jersey. He's not loved like, say, John Madden; nor is he hated like, say, Scott Gomez. But I thought he was Montreal's top player tonight. He put up the most shooting attempts with six, he got four shots on net, and he scored the first goal and created the late equalizer. His play helped get the Canadiens out of some dicey situations. The fact that a line that didn't have Pacioretty or Gallagher was doing something on offense helped Montreal a lot. I felt if any Canadien was deserving of the first star of the game, it would be him.
Special Teams: Believe it or not, but I was not at all mad at the Devils' power play tonight. While they didn't score and the first one was basically fading away after a good shift, they were able to break into Montreal's end and run up five shots on goal. Like the shootout, the bar is set low for approval in my mind. And they only gave up one shorthanded opportunity tonight. That's also progress.
The penalty kill was a lot stronger. Montreal did get a few good looks on Schneider. But the Devils really did a good job counter-punching. The most notable one was Henrique and Elias taking it up on a two-on-one after P.K. Subban fell on his wallet and lost the puck. The one was able to deny Elias an easy tap in after Budaj got lost after the rebound. But any night where the Devils power play put up more than a vastly superior unit who had one extra advantage is a good one.
Shootout: Blah. I'm sure more Devils fans would like them if they won one like they used to before the 2013 CBA. Now that someone scored, maybe we'll see some more in the future? Maybe. It would have been cool if Schneider's legs were closed on Desharnais' attempt or if Elias didn't slow down in a failed effort to fool Budaj, but I'm being picky.
Another Reason to Lament: One could lament Monday's result because the Devils did so much right but still lost. Tonight, one could lament the result because Montreal's stud defensive pairing had a bad game. Subban may have ran up four shots on net but he was all over the place in his own end. I was surprised to see he didn't get the primary assist on Elias' goal, his biggest error. Both he and Andrei Markov were non-factors on Ryder's goal, though neither were really in position. But the Devils were able to run up close to half of their shots on net in 5-on-5 play (24) when either Subban or Markov were on the ice. That's a sign of success and even Budaj couldn't stop them all. Alas, the late equalizer (would it be wrong to suggest Subban's best play was illegally making sure Elias didn't get that puck and getting away with it?), the lack of an extra bounce in OT, and the shootout salvages the day even when Montreal's one reliable and awesome pairing was just regular and shaky.
One Last Point: The Devils at least played to score effects and really came out ahead in a high-event game. All situation attempts ended 64-44 while shots were 34-30. Some more accuracy would be nice but seeing 64 attempts at all is rare from this team. The advantage didn't fade when they got their 2-1 lead either.
Your Take: What did you make of tonight's game? Pleased that the Devils were able to get up and get a point? Mad that the lead was ruined? Who did you really like from the Devils tonight? Who did you not like at all from the Devils tonight? What did you think of the goaltending? What do you want the Devils to take out of this game as they head into a back-to-back set? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the shootout loss in the comments. Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread and those who followed along with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.