Game 58 Recap: Hab you heard? Devils in fourth!

New Jersey Devils vs Montreal Canadiens

(headline by @StevePalumboNHL)

The Devils’ season has not been without adversity.  They’ve been up and down at times, and have certainly been hit hard with injuries, especially to key players, yet it’s made them a better team.  It’s made the Devils work that much harder for every goal, check and save.  Tonight was a microcosm of their season to date, and they were able to overcome the adversity once again.  The Devils went up to Montreal and beat a very desperate Montreal Canadiens team that has been playing well recently.  What does that win mean for them?  You’ll find out, statistically at least, at the end of the recap.

Unlike some recent Devils games, which had featured slow or sloppy starts, the Devils came out flying in this one.  They put on a forechecking clinic at the Bell Centre early on in this game.  Even Eric Boulton had more ice time than the Devils as a team in their own zone in the first period.  Luckily for the Canadiens, they have a goaltender, Carey Price, who is skilled enough to keep his team in the game early on.  He even lucked out, as he found himself facing the net, yet made two pad saves in a row on Patrik Elias in all alone.  But the Devils salvaged a goal in the first period.  Right off Adam Henrique’s face-off win, Ilya Kovalchuk wristed a shot on net, and Zach Parise, who was left all alone in front of Price, deflected the puck for a 1-0 lead.  The Devils outshot the Habs, 12-4 in the first period.  The period wasn’t perfect, though.  Midway through the first period, Anton Volchenkov took a puck to the face and was slow getting up.  He missed much of the second period, but returned to the game after getting stitched up.

The Devils started the second period just as they finished the first.  The Habs struggled to generate anything offensively for the first half of the second period.  It wasn’t really until a David Clarkson interference penalty that the Habs started to put together better shifts.  They failed on the power play.  In fact, the Devils’ penalty kill was dominant at that point.  However, Montreal warmed up as the second period progressed.  Martin Brodeur made all the saves, as he always does in Montreal, including one on Scott Gomez from close-range and Raphael Diaz’ point shots.  The Devils, who didn’t get the benefit of any power plays tonight, managed to stun the Habs at the end of the second period.  Patrik Elias skated around the perimeter of the offensive zone, then unleashed a hard wrister from the top of the slot.  The puck struck David Clarkson’s body and re-directed into the net for a 2-0 lead.  Montreal outshot the Devils, 9-7 in the second period, but trailed by two goals.

At some point between the second and third period, the Devils lost another defenseman.  Bryce Salvador left the game due to an apparent illness.  Luckily, Volchenkov returned, which prevented the Devils, who were already without Henrik Tallinder, Adam Larsson and Kurtis Foster tonight, from only having three defensemen.

Here are some reactions to the first two periods via Twitter:

@Tristy: Loving Marty’s strong play. Also love how Clarkson screened the defense and goalie on that last goal.

@HeadUpKid13: I like how good we are doing defensively, keeping them to bad angle shots and not many good scoring chances.

@Frederick987: Playing like they know how big a game this really is #Leapfrog baby LeapFrog!  #LETSGODEVILS

The Montreal Canadiens played a much stronger third period, though.  They also benefitted from a Dainius Zubrus high-sticking penalty just 38 seconds in.  The Habs were able to maintain control of the puck throughout the power play, and eventually, after Brodeur was trying to find the puck at the side of the net, Max Pacioretty buried it into an open net to cut their deficit to 2-1.  The Devils defensemen were chasing Habs players around and could never recover their positioning.  The Habs continued to press for the tying goal after their first goal.  Brodeur stopped 8 shots in the third period, and 21 overall.

Rather than blowing a 2-0 lead, as the Devils did against the Ducks, they were able to capitalize again.  Alexei Ponikarovsky started his shift by forcing a Habs defenseman to turn the puck over.  What followed was perhaps the team’s best shift of the night.  Steve Bernier, Dainius Zubrus and Ponikarovsky, known as the “600+ pound line” (says Ponikarovsky – all three players are 6’1″ and 210 pounds each or larger) cycled the puck relentlessly.  Finally, Zubrus got the puck back to defenseman Mark Fayne, and he found Matt Taormina, who one-timed a slapshot through Bernier’s screen in front of Price and into the net.  His shot struck and broke the camera in the back of the net.  That gave the Devils a 3-1 lead, and that score held up as a final.  Montreal made a late push in the final minutes, but the Devils, who struggled at times in their own end, held on to win.

The win gives the Devils 72 points, which is tied with the Boston Bruins for the second-highest point total in the Eastern Conference.  Due to the division leaders and standings, the Devils were able to pass Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and move into 4th place in the conference.  The Devils are one of the hottest teams in the league recently.  They’re 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, all since the All-Star break.  They’re also expecting to get healthier soon, too.  Adam Larsson, who hasn’t played since the last Devils-Canadiens game after Habs defenseman P.K. Subban hit him hard, skated before the game.  His return, plus Ryan Carter, Henrik Tallinder and Travis Zajac, could give the Devils enough to cap off what has been a great start to the second half and a 2011-esque second half run.

Game notes: The Devils won their 8th straight game at Bell Centre.  Although they were swept by the Habs in New Jersey last year and went 1-1 at home against them this season, they haven’t lost in Montreal since March 11th, 2008.  Ilya Kovalchuk, Adam Henrique and Zach Parise each recorded points on the Devils’ first goal tonight.  Kovalchuk leads the team with 58 points.  Henrique extended his lead over Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the rookie scoring lead with his 39th point.  Zach Parise and David Clarkson both scored their 22nd goals of their respective seasons, which is second on the team to Kovalchuk’s 25.  Had Patrik Elias’ shot not hit Clarkson and gone straight in, Elias would have been the fourth Devil to reach the 20-goal plateau this season.  Matt Taormina scored his first goal of the season, which is his first goal since October 30th, 2010 in Los Angeles, and fourth career goal.  Taormina missed most of last season with a broken ankle.  It was Taormina’s sixth point of the season, and 12th point for Mark Fayne, who assisted on the goal.  Parise and Taormina had a game-high five shots on goal each.  Peter Harrold was called up from AHL Albany, and replaced Kurtis Foster in the lineup.  Harrold had a pair of shots in nearly 20 minutes of ice time.

Finally, tonight’s game capped Hockey Weekend Across America.  The Devils and Canadiens each have many American players that were in tonight’s game (not including Montreal’s injured winger and ex-Devil, Brian Gionta).  The Devils’ American players are Andy Greene, Zach Parise, Nick Palmieri, Peter Harrold, Mark Fayne and Matt Taormina (plus Cam Janssen and Ryan Carter, who did not play tonight).

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Posted on February 19, 2012, in Game Recap, New Jersey Devils, NHL and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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