Tonight was the first game for the New Jersey Devils were the result really didn't matter much in the standings. They were eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday and are now just playing for pride, contracts, and/or a draft pick. The energy at the Rock wasn't really there but the team definitely brought it against the Montreal Canadiens. Believe it or not, they played a very good first period where they not only outplayed the opposition but actually built up a lead. They even extended it to three goals. The Canadiens answered two of them, but they couldn't find an equalizer even with a whole period to find it with.
Admittedly, it's a little strange to recap this game. During the game, I felt mixed emotions. As the Devils were pushing the play, controlling the tempo, and eventually building up a three goal lead, I wasn't sure whether to feel really pleased that their hard work was being rewarded knowing that it's all for nothing a few days from now. Likewise, when the Canadiens pulled within one in the final minute of the second period, I didn't get all that upset or concerned that a three goal lead could be wiped away for the same reason. Nevertheless, it's good to get a win over a strong team like Montreal and while the performance wasn't whole, I believe the Devils were the better team on the ice.
Perhaps that's the most confusing part. This was a night where the Devils not only scored one power play goal, but two of them. The first was Travis Zajac springing Patrik Elias into the center of the Montreal zone for a one-on-one that the Devils legend beautifully finished. The second came in the second period when Steve Sullivan re-directed a well-placed shot (or was it a pass?) by Marek Zidlicky. In between and back late in the first period, Dainius Zubrus set up Jacob Josefson at the left side of the net and the young forward put it up and off Carey Price and the puck dropped in. The Devils were forechecking well, they were denying Montreal in the neutral zone more and more, and they continued in the second period until near the end. The third period was remarkable in that while the Devils only got three shots on Price, Montreal really only set up in New Jersey's end in the final 40 seconds or so with an extra skater. Then and only then did the Devils have trouble getting it out, but the skaters got the blocks needed .
Montreal's performance was rather confusing. After matching the Devils shot from shot early on, they just faded away in the first period. Some power plays and playing a little to the score got them back into things. Adam Larsson guessed wrong after a faceoff win by Montreal so Raphael Diaz quickly found Max Pacioretty in front all alone. Pacioretty, I guess, wanted to try a pass but the puck went off Larsson's skates and in for the first goal on a power play. Montreal's best chance to get back in the game came late in the second when they pinned Larsson and Alexander Urbom for nearly two minutes. They weren't at fault for the goal that ended the shift itself but they nor the skaters couldn't get it out prior. Alex Galchenyuk slashed hard down on Dainius Zubrus' stick, got the puck as played continued, found Lars Eller in front, and the one-timer went off the left post, then the back of Brodeur's skate, and in. Given how late it was and how it came after excellent possession by Montreal, you'd expect them to come out roaring in the third. Nope. They took a mere five shots on net with a stuttering offense. Take your pick of the reasons: Their skaters went offside, the puck carrier got stood up at the blueline, they lost a battle after a dump-in, they iced the puck, a Devil picked off their pass, etc. If it wasn't one thing, it was another. If you didn't know the score, then you would have never realized Montreal was down a goal.
Likewise, if you didn't know the standings, then you would have never realized the Devils weren't in the playoffs based on how they played tonight. It was a good performance and unlike much of the last two months, they got a result out of it. The Rock wasn't sold out and the mood was more dour than usual, but all of the home fans had something to smile at 9:30 PM EDT. I'd say it's worth it.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Faceoff Comparison | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Log | The Time on Ice Corsi & Fenwick Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts
The Opposition Opinion: Andrew Bershire's recap at Eyes on the Prize isn't a happy one as his beloved team dropped another game. He also whines about the Devils interfering on every play tonight. I find that funny since the Montreal way of battling along the boards seems to be hugging guys. And that didn't even work as a whole. Whenever an opposing fan complains about how the Devils play, you can give them a three word response: "Wah wah wah."
The Game Highlights: Josefson's first of the year and two power play goals. Of course you want to watch the NHL.com highlight video from this game. Here it is:
Proof of Superiority in Play: While the Devils only out-shot the Canadiens 21-18 in 5-on-5 play, that's actually pretty good considering the Devils played with a lead for over two-thirds of the game. The Devils as a team ended up +5 in Fenwick differential and +8 in Corsi differential. When you take more attempts than the opposition with a lead, it means things are going pretty well. The Devils certainly could have used more than three shots on net in the third period, it's entirely possible they attempted more. I know they definitely had three misses on what could have been hard shots.
Proof that Matchups Matter: The most successful line by eye and by possession stats from this game for Montreal was the unit of Brandon Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, and David Desharnais. While the latter two only hooked up for a score on a power play, they did quite a bit of damage at evens. Anytime your own Corsi differential is at +8 or +9 while the rest of your team is mostly negative means you were doing something right. And they did with six of Montreal's 18 shots at even strength tonight. Gallagher also drew a penalty in that he got cross-checked away from the play for no good reason by Marek Zidlicky. But they did well. Part of that has to do with who they faced.
Enter Adam Larsson. Larsson faced the Desharnais line the most and it showed. Larsson's shifts were very up-and-down this evening. He even had shifts where he would do something really good like keep the puck carrier to the outside and follow that up by not reacting fast enough for when the play switches to the slot and not getting a good chip out of the zone. Larsson was also was caught out for that epic near-two-minute shift that ended with Eller's goal in the second period so it was a bit rough for him. The possession doesn't lie and his -4 Fenwick and -6 Corsi really sticks out among a team with only a handful of not all that negative players. Even his most common partner, Andy Greene, fared better. Maybe those three extra minutes at even strength by Greene made him a +4 Fenwick, +5 Corsi guy tonight? Who knows. Overall, it wasn't a great night for the young defende.
Interestingly, Larsson's second most common forward line match up was the Rene Bourque line, which got creamed in possession. Seriously, Bourque, Galchenyuk, and Eller ended up in negative double digits in Corsi differential. That tells me what I saw was correct: Pacioretty, Desharnais, and Gallagher enjoyed the game when #5 was on the ice.
Enter the Call Up: Alexander Urbom was put in the lineup for Henrik Tallinder and not Anton Volchenkov tonight. Urbom got 13:50 of ice time, 21 seconds on a PK, and looked OK for the most part. He had some dire moments where he was fortunate to get some help or Montreal botching a pass or control of the puck after he was beat. Urbom was visibly gassed and in over his head during that near-two-minute shift at the end of the second period. He had some good moments where he calmly played the puck out and helped his other defenders out. Peter Harrold did a good job helping him along and Peter DeBoer wisely kept him out there mostly against Montreal's bottom six. Overall, it was a decent enough performance. I think he may have a future at this level but it's a bit too early to say.
Is Avery a Team Consultant?: Brandon Prust left his mark on the game with not just one, but two goaltender interference penalties. The second one was even outside the crease so good job coaches for teaching the guys the rules of the game. I guess you can't take the Ranger out of some guys. Either that or Peter Laviolette was right along about "Typical Montreal." Fortunately, Zidlicky hooked up with Sullivan for a power play goal that made Montreal pay for the first one.
Is Zidlicky's Mind Right?: Unfortunately, Zidlicky held Eller's stick after he got beat at the right point on the power play awarded to Prust's second goalie interference. That ended the Devils' power play and gave Montreal an abbreviated one. It was Zidlicky's second penalty of the night and the first was unnecessary as that one. He cross-checked Gallagher behind the net away from the play which easily got the ref's attention. The Canadiens would score on that power play. The penalties otherwise leave a mark on a game where he got two assists, no shots on net out of three attempts, and ended up positive in possession. If only he thought a little better.
Power Play Success From Near Failure: The Devils scored two power play goals. Hooray! They came after the Devils made errors on them. Before Elias was sprung for a one-on-one, the team had to re-gain the zone because Elias flung a pass too hard to a point man who wasn't there. The first shot of the power play Sullivan would eventually score on came from Tomas Plekanec as he rushed down on a shorthanded chance, hit the left post, and thankfully the puck didn't bounce off Broduer and in. Good on the Devils to recover from failures to make the most out of their power plays.
Speaking of special teams, I like what the Devils did on the PK. The one goal allowed came from Larsson guessing wrong right after a faceoff and even then, Pacioretty needed a fortuitous bounce off Larsson's skate to score. They still held the Canadiens to only three shots across four opportunities.
When European Players Attack: I enjoyed seeing the good work by Alexei Ponikarovsky, Andrei Loktionov, and Ilya Kovalchuk tonight. Kovalchuk was in a shooting mood and got four on Carey Price. Ponikarovsky was doing quite well along the boards and Loktionov just seemed to be in constant motion. The line didn't produce a goal, but they came mightily close late in the first period when Loktionov was found open for a cross-slot pass. Alas, he didn't get all of it and Price made an impressive stop on him. Nevertheless, I like what they did and so they had the better Corsi differentials among Devils forwards tonight.
When Fourth Liners Sort of, Not Really Attack: While the CBGB started off well and faded, they seemed to get in the heads of the Canadiens players. Steve Bernier in particular had a bee in his bonnet over P.K. Subban when Subban shrugged him off just at the end of the second period. From the third period on, the fourth line seemed to get things fiesty with a Montreal squad so frustrated that they could barely put up a sustained attack in a one-score game against a non-playoff bound team. OK, maybe the latter really drove that more than Ryan Carter. But at least we got to see Stephen Gionta and Brian Gionta battle a little before a faceoff. Yes, Stephen Gionta was at wing, probably because he lost all seven of his faceoffs and the coaches figured Ryan Carter should take a few. Incidentally, Bernier got three shots on net, Carter one, and the unit was treading water in the possession after a monster shift in the first period that kept the Canadiens in their own for about a minute.
Goalie Thoughts: Martin Brodeur did well and the fact he saw 21 total shots means that his percentages don't take a massive hit for two goals he really couldn't have done much on. The first one was an odd-bounce. The second was a point-blank one-timer right in front that still needed to bounce off the post and Brodeur's skate to get in. That's not so bad. He didn't get caught away from the left post like Price on Josefson's goal.
Other Notables: I liked Josefson's hustle tonight and felt he did OK in the 15 or so minutes he played. I felt Clarkson did more than just his one shot tonight. He really should decide to shoot or pass before getting to the crease on an odd-man rush, though. I also felt Elias did a lot more too but he only had one additional shot after his power play goal. I liked Zajac's game tonight and he had an important intervention on a rare bit of third period offense by Montreal. There was a loose rebound and Zajac ensured the Montreal defenseman - I didn't get his number - wouldn't be able to get his stick on it. Additionally, I liked his pass to Elias for the PPG, that he won some faceoffs, and he even attacked a bit with two shots.
A Penultimate Note: Enjoy the win. After Thursday, you're not going to go to the Rock for a game until preseason and after Saturday there won't be any Devils games at all until the fall. Who knows whether the Devils win the next two, so savor this one.
A Final Note: You're welcome, Boston.
That's my take on tonight's game. Who do you think did the best for the Devils tonight? Who do you think had the worst game? What did you like from the Devils performance and why? How did you feel about the Devils holding onto win? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the victory in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and with @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.