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The Montreal Canadiens are in town tonight, a team that’s bested the Devils the two times they’ve faced each other this season, while outscoring them 10-4. Going into tonight’s third and final matchup between these two teams, the Habs are looking to complete the season sweep, while New Jersey aims to snap its lengthiest winless streak of the season and hinder Montreal’s chances at clinching a division and conference title. The Habs are coming off a roller coaster-type loss at the hands of the Washington Capitals. The Habs went 1-1-1 on a recent three-game home stand and are playing their third game in five nights. While it’s possible the Devils could catch the Habs on an off night, it still might not be enough to contain the immense size, speed, and firepower this team possesses.
Offense…Don’t be misguided by Montreal’s 20th-ranked offense into thinking it should be taken lightly. The Devils will have their hands full with names like Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, and Alex Galchenyuk, just to mention a few. The Devils shouldn’t take Montreal’s offense lightly regardless of how they’ve performed as a whole because they’ve played like a top-ranked offense against the Devils, as reiterated by the whopping ten goals they scored against them. PK Subban has recorded six assists in both games against the Devils. Tomas Plekanec has three goals against them, while Michael Bournival and Dale Weise have two goals apiece. There’s a broad list of additional players on the Canadiens who’ve averaged at least a point per game against the Devils that included Max Pacioretty, Andrei Markov, Sergei Gonchar, Brendan Gallagher, and David Desharnais. You could argue the Habs could also see this game as an opportunity for certain players to pad their stats if the previous two matchups between these two teams is any indication of what to expect tonight.
Defense…Montreal’s blue line starts and ends with PK Subban. Outside of Andrei Markov, there’s a steep drop in point production amongst Montreal’s defensemen. These two combine for 43 power play points alone and are only two of four blue liners with power play points. The next two (Sergei Gonchar and Nathan Beaulieu), combine for five points (all assists). Despite the massive gap in points, members of the Hab’s defense make up for it in ways that don’t show up on the score sheet. Alexei Emelin is ranked 13th in hits amongst defensemen (190), while Andrei Markov, in addition to the offense he provides, is ranked 11th in blocks (167), and 7th in takeaways (46). Deadline acquisition Jeff Petry is ranked 14th in takeaways, so needless to say while the offensive outlets on Montreal’s blue line are identifiable, they compensate for it in diversity amongst real time stats that make differences in games that don’t show up on the score sheet.
Goaltending…There’s a chance Carey Price gets the night off in place of backup Dustin Tokarski. Understandably so, Tokarski’s playing time has been far and between since his team’s starter is completing a career season that will more than likely earn him a Vezina and possibly a Hart nomination when all’s said and done. Tokarski’s gone 1-2-2 in his last five starts, over which he’s surrendered an average of 3.4 goals a game and earned a .900 save percentage. Normally it would seem ideal that the Devils could get a break with their opponent’s competition between the pipes but considering New Jersey’s track record in making backups look like superstars, it would be wise to approach this game as if the Habs are deploying their A-squad.
Who to watch
PK Subban…In addition to having six assists against the Devils this season, PK enters tonight’s game with two goals and five points in his last three games. Any team will perceive Subban as a prioritized threat when they face the Habs. Keeping him off the score sheet (or from having some sort of significant impact in the game) is considered just as big an accomplishment as pulling off a victory against Montreal for any team. When you take the Devil’s track record against the Habs this year, Subban’s point production against New Jersey, and the hot streak he’s on going into tonight’s game, it raises the question as to whether or not Subban making an impact on tonight’s game could be preventable or an inevitability.
Mike Cammalleri…To a much lesser extent than Subban, he enters tonight with two goals and four points in his last four games, surpassing last year’s scoring output. Like Subban…and what countless other Habs have done against the Devils this year, Cammalleri’s maintained a point per game in both matchups against Montreal, accounting for two of the four goals the Devils scored against them all season. Cammalleri has scored against every one of his former teams this year, which as admirable as it has been to watch, clearly hasn’t been enough to give the Devils any edge against an elite squad like the Habs.
What to watch
Third time a charm…? For the first time in years, one goalie other than Martin Brodeur has started every game against Montreal and it wasn’t Cory Schneider. Rookie backup Keith Kinkaid, although holding his own this year, started and lost both games against Montreal this year. It’s been dully noted how Kinkaid has started against some formidable competition this season and held his own for a rookie backup. The decision to go with him tonight is justifiable, and hopes are high he could get away with that one win against Montreal to end what could be one of, if not his last start of the season on a high note.
Where to Watch
When to watch