If the Devils could play all of their games at The Rock, they’d be set. They play that much better at home than they do on the road. Tonight, they notched another win on home ice by defeating the Montreal Canadiens 5-2 the night before Thanksgiving.
Pavel Zacha, a guy who just a few weeks ago was down in Binghamton trying to get back in some kind of groove has found that groove. He scored two goals tonight to improve his goal-scoring streak to three games. But overall, it was a team effort with eleven different Devils notching at least a point with three getting two (Zacha, Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson).
Injury-wise, the Devils had some good news today. Nico Hischier was back in the lineup after missing four games. Those were the first four games he had missed in his (young) NHL career. He had played all 82 games last season. Nico was back centering a line with Hall and Kyle Palmieri. Brian Boyle and Sami Vatanen remain on injured reserve, but did skate today. Steven Santini started a long term conditioning loan to Binghamton of the AHL tonight. He is recovering from a fractured jaw.
The Devils did lose Joey Anderson early in the game. He did not return and there was no word on what happened to him.
Eric Gryba, Drew Stafford and Stefan Noesen were the healthy scratches. Coach John Hynes did say that while Noesen has played well this year, he still needs to work on a few things and taking a night off and looking at video should help him out.
In goal, the Devils were back with Keith Kinkaid. He stopped 24 of 26 shots faced and got some help again from the post. Montreal countered with Carey Price. The former Vezina and Hart Trophy winner made 23 saves on 28 Devils shots.
The Devils kicked off the scoring when Kyle Palmieri connected from Andy Greene and Blake Coleman. It came 6:26 into the game when a relentless Coleman forecheck worked the puck eventually back to Greene. Greene fired a shot from the point that Palmieri was able to bat out of the air behind Price. His redirection gave New Jersey the 1-0 lead early.
But it would not last long. Just 24 seconds later, Jonathan Drouin scored off the rush, going top shelf over Kinkaid, for the Habs. Andrew Shaw had the lone assist on his goal and we were back to square one with a 1-1 game.
But before the first intermission, Hischier would give the Devils back the lead. The goal came at 16:55 and happened off of an offensive zone faceoff for the Devils. Montreal won the draw and the puck went back off the end boards to Hall. He found a seam to Nico, who shot on Price. The puck trickled behind Price to put the Devils up 2-1. It was a nice return present for Hischier and the Devils would not look back from there.
Hall make it 3-1 Devils in the second with a real beauty at the 8:59 mark of the period. Off the rush, Nico bounced the puck off the boards to himself to skate it into the far corner. From there, he found Johansson at the far half wall. Johansson found a nice seam to get the puck to Egor Yakovlev and the Russian took the pass at the near faceoff dot. He made a move toward Price that froze the Montreal goaltender briefly, then passed to Hall in the slot who buried the puck into an empty net. It was a bang-bang play and very nice. The assist to Yakovlev was also his first NHL point (and a nice one to get it on too).
From there, Pavel Zacha took over beginning at 10:01 of the second to make it 4-1 Devils. Jesper Bratt worked hard in the corner to get a loose puck to Marcus Johansson. Johansson directed to puck towards Zacha at the side of the net. Zacha was able to backhand a shot out of midair to shovel it into the empty net. The floodgates had officially opened as the Devils now had a three goal lead.
In their last seven games, the Devils had gone 0-for-15 on the power play. But that was about to change. At the 11:52 mark, Tomas Tatar was called for delay of game for closing his hand on the puck. The Devils were on their first power play of the game and with less than ten seconds remaining on the man advantage, Zacha struck again. He scored at 13:47 from Damon Severson and Brett Seney to make it 5-1. It came when Severson found Zacha through the neutral zone. He split the Canadiens’ defense and went five hole on Price. That ended the Devils’ power play goal drought right there.
Overall, the Devils were 1-for-1 on the power play with three shots. They also registered two shorthanded shots. Montreal was 0-for-2 on the PP, notching just two shots on goal.
The Habs would get one more when Max Domi (who came in with 25 points, the best start for a Montreal player in 100 years) extended his point streak to 11 games. He took a shot that was blocked and fluttered by Kinkaid to make it 5-2 at the 10:52 mark of the third. This came after the Canadiens had a goal disallowed earlier on in the period.
Kenny Agostino, a New Jersey native who played high school hockey at Delbarton and was twice named the New Jersey state player of the year by the Star-Ledger, had one waved off with 17:04 remaining in the game when the net came off its moorings before the puck crossed the line fully. The situation room in Toronto initiated a review, but the call on the ice stood, no goal.
And with the Domi goal, we had our final: 5-2.
The Devils, as a team, lost a staggering 60-percent of the game’s faceoffs and were outhit 19-13. Each team had 11 blocked shots and ten giveaways.
Individually, Andy Greene led the team in ice time with 21:21 (including 3:15 shorthanded ice time) while Hall led the forwards with 20:46 (including 38 seconds of PP TOI). Shots on goal saw four as the most, with Hall, Palmieri, Zacha and Severson each notching that number. Blake Coleman led in hits with three while Greene led in blocked shots with three. Pavel Zacha had five takeaways to lead in that category.
Next up, Turkey Day tomorrow. Following that, the Devils will take on the Islanders at home on Friday (a 4 PM puck drop). That will be the Devils’ Hockey Fights Cancer Night and will also feature an angry Isles team, as they were blown out by the Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden. We will, of course, have that game for you right here.