While the Devils are often accused of being boring, last night's game with Montreal was actually one of the quietest games of the season - and that isn't just because of the barely 12,000 plus in attendance. Between Jacques Lemaire's now-obsessive line-matching which has completely made Zach Parise and Travis Zajac dissapear...sigh, and the usual neutral-zone trap (lack of) offense from a Jacques Martin team, perhaps the game's lack of action was inevitable.
True, the Devils did manage to win once again - 2-1 on a late Patrik Elias goal, and at this point of the year you'll still take the two points, but now the way we're winning is bothering me a little. Not so much because of the dissapearance of our former top line but more because of a philosophy that's continually failed in the playoffs post-lockout. While it's true Lemaire has tried to stay aggressive and up-tempo offensively and the power play has been much better this season (until last night anyway), coaching defensively does not work in the post-lockout NHL.
Parise and Zajac more than proved they can handle playing against other top lines early in the season when Jay Pandolfo and Rob Niedermayer were on the shelf, why go back to the old, slow checking line which is so pre-lockout? Don't get me wrong, I like Robbie Nieds and Jamie Langenbrunner being on the third line from time to time at least gives it some hope for offense, but come on.
Anyway, end rant (for now) - especially since it's still only December and I was hoping not to play Parise and Zajac twenty plus minutes a night in the regular season. Just not the way we're going about it. Let's get to some good news, as in the win itself which upped the Devils' record to 23-8-1, moving them back into a tie for the division lead with two games in hand over the Penguins. What's more, the Devils and Penguins are putting some considerable distance between themselves and the other three teams in the division, all struggling to tread water right now. It is still early though, the Devils themselves made up a nineteen-point deficit in January during the '05-06 season.
Early on it seemed as if the story of the game would be the Devils' power play, and not in a good way. With no fewer than four power play chances in the first period (including a minute-long two-man advantage) the Devils not only failed to score but actually fell behind on one of those failed power plays when Langenbrunner couldn't keep a bouncing puck in the zone and Montreal's Travis Moen streaked down the ice on a two-on-one. Instead of passing, Moen snuck a backhand through Martin Brodeur at 12:23, giving Montreal a 1-0 lead.
Despite the fact that the Devils outshot the Canadiens in every period, there was very little in terms of action, especially during the first two periods. I couldn't understand why until I remembered Martin was behind the Montreal bench, then it hit me like a lightbulb. Granted, we have to take some of the blame too for all of our botched power plays (five total on the night), and during the first two periods our fourth line actually looked the best of all of them and were rewarded with a weird goal late in the second.
Illka Pikkaranen took a shot that beat Carey Price two different times - the first going off the post, the second when the puck bounced back toward Price and off his skate, finally going into the net for Pikkaranen's first career NHL goal. To the crowd's credit he got a nice ovation when that fact was announced over the PA at 16:25. Linemates Dean McAmmond and Rod Pelley also appeared on the scoresheet for a rare time with assists.
Now tied after two periods, the Canadiens seemed content to play for overtime and sat back as the Devils outshot them 10-3 in the third, though getting few real eye-popping chances in the process. Inevitably the game slogged on towards overtime - until more Elias magic in the clutch with just 2:36 remaining. After taking a Brian Rolston pass and firing on goal, Elias corraled the rebound and backhanded a second opportunity past Price for his seventh goal of the year, one that proved to be decisive. Fellow linemate Vladimir Zharkov also was credited with an assist on the goal. Finally forced to open it up, the Canadiens provided a couple of anxious moments late but perhaps a barely deserved result was secured when the Devils held on for that 2-1 win.
Given how quiet last night was, I almost forgot to write about the quasi-return of Scott Gomez. True, Gomez has come back to the Rock before - but this was the first time since the Rangers traded him out of the area after just two seasons on a seven-year deal. That actually looks to be one of the few smart moves Glen Sather's made (the trading, not the seven-year deal) for Gomez has been practically useless in his first season as a Hab with sixteen points in 31 games and a -2.
While the uniform has changed, the crowd's venom hasn't, even puzzling Brodeur in the postgame and Brodeur hated Gomez leaving for the Rangers as much as anyone. As far as the other prominent ex-Devil in a Montreal sweater now, Brian Gionta was hurt and not even announced as a scratch, I guess because he got put on long-term IR and we don't have to do that this year because we have cap space. Hopefully Gio will be back for the Habs' other trip here in late January.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Patrik Elias (goal, +1)
- Travis Moen (goal, +1)
- Illka Pikkaranen (goal)