Three games until it's over. Let's just see what happens. I know that those in Boston will be hoping New Jersey shows up tonight.
The Time: 7:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG 2, RDS; Radio - 1130 AM WBBR
The Ticket Link from TiqIQ: It's the the penultimate Devils home game of the regular season. If you want to get to the game, then the secondary market can help you out. I'm not sure how much of a crowd it will be but who knows how many Montreal fans came down to support their team as they fight for the Northeast crown. Anyway, go visit our partners at TiqIQ to find something on the secondary market: New Jersey Devils tickets.
The Last Devils Game: The Devils went into MSG on Sunday for a game against Our Hated Rivals in front of a nationwide audience. They needed to win to keep faint playoff hopes alive. They did not. The New York Rangers scored early, scored some more, and by the time the Devils got on the board, it was a consolation goal. It was a stinker and the Devils are now mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. My recap of the loss is here.
The Last Canadiens Game: On Saturday night, the Canadiens played their final home game of the season against the Washington Capitals. Montreal has been struggling as of late and it was no different against the Caps. The super-hot Alexander Ovechkin opened up the scoring within the first five minutes and shortly after that Troy Brouwer made it 2-0 Washington. Brouwer struck again early in the second period and Nicklas Backstrom scored a power play goal minutes later. Before the halfway mark of the game, it was 4-0 Washington. Needless to say, the Montreal faithful weren't happy. Ovechkin converted a third period power play for his thirtieth (!!) goal of the season. Only a little bit after that did Montreal get on the board with a goal by Max Pacioretty. While Montreal ran up the shot count to 36-25, they were playing from behind for nearly the entire game. As such, they lost another game in a big way by a score of 5-1. Andrew Berkshire was at the game and described not only the game but also the attitude in the Bell Center in his recap at Habs Eyes on the Prize.
The Last Devils-Canadiens Game: Back on March 17, the Devils hosted the Canadiens. You know, in that little window in between extended winless streaks this season. Montreal came into the game hot, the Devils were coming off a shootout loss to Philly from the night prior, and so the visitors had the better run of play in the first period. They were rewarded early when a defensive faceoff win by New Jersey led to a giveaway of sorts by Anton Volchenkov and Colby Armstrong slammed a shot from the left dot through a screen to beat Johan Hedberg. Moose did well to prevent it from being extended. The Devils played far better in the second and third periods, out-shooting, out-attempting, and out-playing Montreal in most aspects of the game. They tied up the game at 1-1 with a shot by Peter Harrold that found it's way through traffic during a power play. However, the Devils couldn't crack Carey Price (or the goal post) again. Marek Zidlicky had one awful giveaway in his own end that went right to Jarrod Tinordi. Tinordi wound up a slap shot, hit it, and Tomas Plekanec deflected it while skating across to make it 2-1. The Devils would end up losing 2-1 on a night where they eventually took the game over in possession even when tied, they actually got a good game out of Hedberg, and they didn't rolled over after a lame first period because they couldn't score. Bruce Peter forgot where Newark was in his recap of the game; while Andrew Berkshire recounted his experience at the Rock. In my recap, I made a point of how cruddy the shooting percentage was then and how it was undercutting the team. As it turned out, the following weeks have only vindicated what I was talking about then. Remember that when you read the many post-mortem Devils posts on the Internet that don't mention the shooting percentage.
The Goal: Start out with a bang. The Devils got caught early and were down 1-0 within the first minute against New York on Sunday. On Saturday, the Devils were listless and were quickly down 2-0 before they even got a shot on net when they hosted Florida. On Thursday, an eventual 3-0 win at Philly, the Devils needed some time before they got going, so to speak. The Devils have had some poor starts in recent games. While the Devils have nothing positive in the standings to play for at this point, the Canadiens absolutely do with respect to seeding and possibly getting first in their division. They've lost four out of their last five and they have reason to be ready for this one. In response to their most recent loss to the Caps, they had a Sunday practice which has not been traditional for them this season according to Stu Cowan at Hockey Inside/Out. If the Devils want to finish the season on a high note, then knocking off a good Montreal team would be a good way to do it. To do that, it would be in their best interest to have a good start. That means making passes, completing line changes, not taking over five minutes to register a shot on net, and not getting pinned back among other things.
Let's talk about the Devils first. They didn't have a full practice today but Lou was out in force in the media today. Therefore, it's been confirmed through Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice that Bryce Salvador will not play another game this season, Ilya Kovalchuk will play, and there could be some younger faces getting minutes. As Gulitti noted, Alexander Urbom has already been called up but hasn't played yet so he could be in the mix. The Devils could call up a number of other players too. While Stefan Matteau has been released by his junior team during their playoffs, Lou said he won't be coming to New Jersey this week. Whether or not we'll see anyone different tonight isn't known as of this writing. I would count on Martin Brodeur starting tonight if only because it's Montreal.
If it were up to me, I would definitely want to take Anton Volchenkov out and put Mark Fayne back in. If the idea is to get Urbom involved, then he may be the fall guy. Urbom's a defensive minded defenseman; were he more offensively-inclined, then I could see Peter Harrold sit one out. As much as Marek Zidlicky's play draws ire from some fans, I can't forsee the one offensive-minded defender being sat out after not being sat out this whole season. Up at forward, we could see the same lineup and if so, I just hope Patrik Elias will have a more constructive performance and Ilya Kovalchuk will get some shots on net.
Moving on to Montreal, they're really slumping but taking them lightly is ten pounds of a bad idea in a five pound bag. Look at the lines and pairings reported by Brenda Branswell at Hockey Inside/Out from their practice session on Monday. That's a lot of talent up top with two big-minute defenders in Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban - I'm sorry, Norris-quality P.K. Subban - on separate pairings. Les Habs have five forwards with ten or more goals this season: Max Pacioretty (13 G, 24 A, 151 S), Michael Ryder (16 G, 19 A, 99 S, did play on Dallas), Tomas Plekanec (13 G, 19 A, 128 S), captain Brian Gionta (14 G, 12 A, 108 S), and rookie Brendan Gallagher (13 G, 12 A, 108 S). And they have two more on the cusp of double-digits in scoring: David Desharnais (9 G, 17 A, 63 S) and rookie Alex Galchenyuk (9 G, 15 A, 76 S). Oh, and Subban (11 G, 25 A, 116 S, 7 PPG) and Markov (9 G, 18 A, 76 S, 8 PPG) have been productive as well. On top of all that, all of those players have at least 20 points this season. So does Lars Eller (6 G, 18 A, 78 S). To put all that in perspective, the Devils only have four players with at least ten goals and three players with at least twenty points. Montreal can definitely produce. They've only been somewhat cold recently.
And unlike some other team in Canada the Devils lost 2-1 to in their last game, they're not just riding percentages. Up and down the Montreal lineup, there are positive possession numbers for the Canadien players per Behind the Net in 5-on-5 play. Defenseman Raphael Diaz is the only one who plays a considerable amount who's deep in the red but even that's mitigated by his usage against tough competition and a low offensive zone start percentage. As a team, the Canadiens have a Fenwick percentage over 53% in close-score situations and they've only been deeply below 50% when they have a lead, which is usually common. They average over 30 shots per sixty minutes and allow just over 27 per sixty minutes in 5-on-5 play. The underlying numbers for this team mean that this team is legitimately strong. The fact they're shooting at 8.9% means they're getting production to match. They're just in a lull if anything else.
In net, they appear to be mostly fine though recent games have run roughshod over the numbers. Carey Price's splits look similar to Martin Brodeur this season. They both have an even strength save percentage above league average; Carey Price is at 92%. They both have a woeful penalty kill save percentage; Price is at 81.2%. Price has been better against shorthanded situations, though. However, better is something I'm sure Canadien fans want from Price. He's allowed 19 goals in his last five games and at least one was a power play goal in each game. Recent play suggests the Devils should just bomb away and see what happens. They might even go in. Especially when the Devils get a power play. If Montreal decides to mix things up and put in Peter Budaj, the plan should remain the same. Budaj has been far better on the PK but his even strength save percentage is only 90.7%.
The penalty kill has gone as well as one would expect with Price's PK save percentage so low. The Canadiens are 24th in success rate at 80% this season. They're actually below the league median in 4-on-5 situations with 46.1 shots allowed per 60 minutes according to Behind the Net. But what they've allowed has hurt. The Devils' power play will see plenty of Josh Gorges, Montreal's leader in average shorthanded ice time per game. As of late, it seems to me he can be picked on; let's hope the Devils can. On the flip side, their power play has been quite successful. Their conversion rate of 21.2% is the fourth highest in the league and they are above league average with 48.3 shots for per sixty minutes in 5-on-4 situations. The Devils' penalty kill need to be aware of the pointmen at all times. Subban is tied with Ovechkin and Mike Ribiero for the league lead in power play points with 25. Markov is just behind those three with 23. Ryder, Plekanec, and Pacioretty each have over ten power play points as well.
Overall, the Montreal Canadiens are a very good team. The only reason why one may think the Devils have a decent chance at winning tonight is that Montreal has suffered from poor performances in recent games. If I'm a supporter of the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge, I wouldn't so concerned about limping into the postseason because, again, the team's quality matches more closely to their record than, say, Toronto. But back tonight, the Devils really should just play loose - shouldn't be a problem since they're now out - and hope that they get the breaks Montreal opponents have been getting. If they do that, get a good start, and get into their game (won't be easy since Montreal's a very good possession team, but still), then they could get a nice moral victory with an actual victory while doing Boston a solid. If not, well, I can't imagine too many unhappy Devils fans about it. Such as it is when you know the season's over after Saturday's game ends.
Incidentally, if you want to say "Hi" at a game, you pretty much want to do it either on Tuesday or Thursday. I'll be in Section 1 as usual and ready to hear a myriad of comments starting with "This is what the Devils gotta do this summer." Until then, let's talk about this game - and let's keep the comments to this game - in the comments. Do you think the Devils can make the most of Montreal's recent struggles? Or will Montreal's quality be too much and put a good game together at the Rock? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thanks for reading.