Happy Thanksgiving to all those in the United States!
The Devils were working this holiday, playing north of the border in Montreal in the only game scheduled this Thanksgiving. In four previous games played on Thanksgiving Day, the Devils were 1-2-1 (losing twice in regulation to the then-Phoenix Coyotes in 1998 and 1999, losing in overtime to Phoenix in 1996 and winning in 2000 in Los Angeles), tonight they notched their second win when playing on the holiday, defeating the Montreal Canadiens 6-4.
This was the second and final trip to Quebec for the Devils this season. They last played there on November 16, winning in OT. Since that game 12 days ago, the Canadiens have been winless in their last five, including a loss two nights ago, 8-1 to the Boston Bruins.
Carey Price was pulled in that game against Boston, but he had a chance to redeem himself tonight. He ended up making 29 saves on 34 Devils shots for an .853 save percentage in the losing effort. The Devils ended the game with 35 total shots, adding an empty net goal later on in the contest. Mackenzie Blackwood went for the Devils and turned aside 44 of 48 Habs’ shots for a .917 save percentage.
Sitting for the Devils tonight were John Hayden and Brett Seney up front and Mirco Mueller on the blueline. That meant that Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt slotted back in at forward, with both skating on the fourth line with Miles Wood as their left winger. On defense, Matt Tennyson was back in playing in place of Mueller.
The game began with a slightly scary moment, with Blackwood colliding with Montreal’s Nick Cousins behind his net. He got up slowly but remained in the game, going the distance.
The Devils’ birthday boy, Blake Coleman, playing on his 28th birthday, broke the scoreless tie at 7:19 of the first period when Travis Zajac lobbed the puck up to Nikita Gusev, springing Gusev and Coleman on a 2-on-1. Gusev dragged the puck behind him as he cut in, causing Montreal defenseman Shea Weber to commit to the shot. He then passed to Coleman, who shoveled it into the net for the 1-0 Devils lead.
But in a pattern that repeated itself a few times in the game, the Canadiens responded less than 30 seconds later (22 seconds to be exact at 7:41) when the Habs’ Tomas Tatar tipped the puck towards Blackwood’s net and eventually, Brendan Gallagher would jam it home from the side of the net. Phillip Danault had the primary assist on the goal and it was 1-1.
But before the first period was out, the Devils would retake the one goal edge. At 8:17, Coleman banked the puck up the boards to Gusev, who broke in on a partial 2-on-1 with Zajac. Gusev floated a pass to Zajac and Zajac batted the puck out of the air and past Price to make it 2-1.
The Devils had the one goal lead going into the second frame and this would see more of the back-and-forth action that was prevalent all night.
First, Jesperi Kotkaniemi knotted the game up at two just 1:40 into the middle period. Max Domi threw the puck on net and the rebound came to Kotkaniemi in the slot. He scored and it was 2-2. Weber had the secondary assist on Kotkaniemi’s third of the season.
But the Devils fought back to retake the single goal advantage. Miles Wood came off the bench on a change and took a stretch pass from Pavel Zacha. He cut in all alone and scored five-hole on Price to make it 3-2 Devils. The goal came at 3:16 of the second and Will Buicher had the other assist.
Montreal’s Joel Armia would tie things back up at 9:02 of the second. Again, Kotkaniemi threw the puck at the net, but the shot never gets there, instead it comes to the stick of Victor Mete. He gets it to Armia who scored his eighth of the season to level the game at three apiece.
Once again, though, the Devils would retake the lead before the period was through. This time it was Jesper Boqvist, notching his second in as many games, who scored. It came when Kyle Palmieri got the puck to Nico Hischier, who gained the zone and fired high on Price. The rebound bounced over a Devils’ player’s stick on the doorstep, but landed on Boqvist’s. He shot, beating Price to make it 4-3 Devils going into the second intermission.
Price did make a nice glove save on Palmieri very late in the third, robbing the Devils’ forward of a sure goal with his left hand.
The Devils took a brief two-goal lead at the 8:21 mark of the third period. It came off the stick of Damon Severson when Coleman worked the puck out of the Devils’ zone to Gusev. Severson jumped up into the rush when he took the puck from Gusev and was off on a 2-on-1 with Zajac. With Zajac being on his off-wing on the rush, Severson elected to shoot, beating Price stick-side to make it 5-3 Devils.
But that two-goal lead would last all of 16 seconds. Jeff Petry dropped to Mike Reilly into the Devils’ zone. Reilly elected to go around the net, trying to stuff it by Blackwood on the wraparound. Blackwood made the save, but the rebound came to Artturi Lehkonen, who fired it home to cut the Devils’ lead back to one as it was 5-4 now. It was the second time tonight that the Habs had scored within 30 seconds of the Devils scoring.
Montreal would pull Price with about 1:25 to go in regulation and Coleman would take a pass off the rush from Zajac to score into the empty net, making it 6-4 (our final) and giving Coleman his first four-point NHL game. Wayne Simmonds had the secondary assist.
It was a big night for the Coleman, Zajac and Gusev line, as Gusev also had a three-point night (three assists). Gusev would be named the game’s first star while Zajac was it’s third. Kotkaniemi of Montreal was the second star – he had a goal and an assist.
Neither team scored on the power play, with the Devils going 0-for-3 with three shots and the Habs going 0-for-2 with three shots as well.
The Canadiens won 58-percent of the game’s faceoffs, outhit the Devils by a wide margin of 38 to 15 and had less giveaways at 13 to the Devils’ 18. The Devils led in blocked shots with 25 to the Habs’ 12.
Individually, Sami Vatanen led in ice time with 23:28 (3:01 on the power play and 1:49 on the PK included) while Taylor Hall led the forwards with 19:09 (including 3:30 on the power play). Hall also led in shots on goal with five, PK Subban led in hits with three, Andy Greene led in blocks with six of the Devils’ team 25. Takeaways were led by Hall, Hischier, Zajac, Coleman, Palmieri, Jack Hughes, Boqvist, Butcher, Severson and Vatanen who each had one.
Next up, the Devils will look to build on this momentum when they take on the Rangers at home on Saturday. Puck drop for this game is 1 PM and we hope you will join us then for what should (hopefully) be a good matchup.
Happy Thanksgiving again to everyone.