The Devils needed this in the biggest way possible. Sure, it came against a team struggling arguably worse than they are, but it did snap their seven-game winless streak.
On the backend of a back-to-back against the Montreal Canadiens, the Devils finally got the monkey off their collective backs by winning 7-1 over the Habs at Bell Centre.
Something was going to break tonight as the Devils had lost seven straight while the Canadiens had dropped their last six games.
Following their 4-1 loss at Ottawa last night, some changes were in order to the lineup tonight. The main move, strangely enough, was slotting Mason Geertsen in for Janne Kuokkanen. Kuokkanen sat out with Marian Studenic and Christian Jaros while Geertsen played largely on the left-wing on a line centered by Michael McLeod with Nathan Bastian on the right-wing.
In goal, the Devils went with a little more “experience” tonight. Jon Gillies got the start and made 30 saves on 31 total Montreal shots for a .968 save percentage on the night in what was a stellar performance. He stopped 23 of the Habs’ 24 shots at five-versus-five and all seven of their power play shots. The Canadiens were kept 0-for-3 on the power play for the night.
Gillies also debuted a new, Devils-influenced mask tonight to take the place of his placeholder brought over from St. Louis.
The Canadiens started Cayden Primeau, who was equal to 27 of the Devils’ 34 total shots. He finished with a .794 save percentage on the night while stopping all three of the Devils’ three shorthanded chances, 24 of their 30 even strength chances and let in their one power play shot. The Devils ended the night at 50-percent on the power play, going 1-for-2 on their opportunities.
Tomas Tatar was making his return as a player to Montreal for the first time since leaving last summer as a free agent. Although he was a healthy scratch through most of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoff run that saw the Habs get to the Final – where they ultimately fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning – he was still looking forward to coming back to Bell Centre.
There were, however, no fans in attendance to witness it as Montreal is in the midst of city-wide COVID protocols that are restricting public gatherings. The Canadiens are not going to have fans in attendance through at least the rest of February.
What Habs fans missed was the Devils’ first road victory in more than a month. Also, this was the Devils’ first visit to Bell Centre since (American) Thanksgiving Night in 2019. For reference, Blake Coleman scored for New Jersey that night with Taylor Hall in the lineup as well.
The Devils needed to get going early and often if things were going to break in their favor tonight. And that things did.
Just 4:36 into the game, right after Ryan Graves had hit the crossbar, the Devils were able to keep the puck moving in the Montreal zone. Colton White recovered and passed back to Graves at the point, setting Graves up for a one-timer. Graves bombed his shot towards the Montreal net where Michael McLeod had fought to gain position. He got to the rebound and deposited his first goal since January 22 behind Primeau to make it 1-0 Devils.
McLeod’s last goal, coincidentally, came in the Devils’ 7-4 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, their last win of any kind.
Gillies showed that he was on late in the first period when he stopped the Canadiens on a 3-on-1 odd man rush.
That was followed up by Dawson Mercer scoring his first goal in 15 games at the 15:31 mark of the first.
Ty Smith hit Jesper Boqvist with a breakout pass and Boqvist, after gaining the Montreal blue line, dished to Mercer, who had gotten behind the Canadiens’ defense. He cut behind and scored. This was Mercer’s first goal of the 2022 calendar year and put the Devils up 2-0 going into the first intermission.
The Devils did falter a bit in the beginning of the second period beginning about 2:30 in when Montreal batted a puck down and through the Devils crease. The puck did not go in, but came within a sliver of cutting the Devils lead in half.
The Habs came close then and would break through at 5:54 gone by in the second when Ryan Poehling seemingly redirected a shot by Brett Kulak past Gillies with Joel Armia getting the secondary assist.
That was changed minutes later to Brett Kulak getting credited with the goal as it went in straight off of his shot. Armia now had the primary assist and Poehling, who had fed Armia initially, got the secondary assist.
Montreal had gotten on the board and things were starting to look competitive. Primeau stopped Jesper Bratt moments after the Canadiens goal on a partial breakaway.
From then on was when things turned.
The Devils would go on to score five straight unanswered from there.
The onslaught started 9:14 into the second period when Nico Hischier scored just moments after New Jersey killed off a Nate Bastian tripping penalty.
On this goal, Yegor Sharangovich was hit with a breakout pass and skated the puck through the neutral zone. Once he gained the Montreal zone, he passed over to Mercer, who was able to find a seam cross-ice to Hischier on the left-wing side and Nico finished to make it 3-1.
Hischier had now notched two goals in two games in two nights.
The Devils would add two more within the final two minutes of the second period as well.
At 18:53 gone by, an Andreas Johnsson redirect was kept in the Montreal zone by the Devils after going wide of the Canadiens net. New Jersey was able to work the puck back to Damon Severson at the point. Severson dished to Boqvist, who got a shot off with Johnsson back in front providing a screen. Boqvist’s shot went in, beating Primeau cleanly to make it 4-1.
Within 47 seconds, McLeod would have his second of the night and the Devils would have a 5-1 lead.
McLeod won an o-zone draw for the Devils and then immediately went to the front of the Montreal net. Geertsen nudged the puck towards the secondary assist (Ty Smith) at the far wall. Smith sent it to Ryan Graves at the point. Graves took a booming shot that saw a rebound pop out to McLeod, who was stationed in front of the Habs’ net and fought to get to the puck to put it behind Primeau.
The Devils now had a four-game lead for the first time since November 11, 2021 (a 4-0 victory over the Islanders) and their third of the season. The other was the night before that Isles game on November 9, 2021 when they defeated the Florida Panthers 7-3. And they would not let up in the third period tonight either.
Just 3:02 into the final frame, Montreal was put on the penalty kill when Jeff Petry was called for interfering with Boqvist.
With the Devils up a man at 3:19 gone by in the third, Severson got the puck from Bratt at the point, able to distribute to Pavel Zacha at the top of the right faceoff circle. Zacha took a slight step towards the middle of the ice and wristed a shot over Primeau’s glove hand to make it 6-1.
The Devils’ power play now had two goals in two games as well as they seem to be getting things going a little bit in putting up the touchdown on the Canadiens.
The extra point was tacked on at the 9:57 mark of the third period when Tomas Tatar, making his return to the city of Montreal, put the Devils in the lead 7-1.
This one saw Zacha intercept a reverse around the boards in the Montreal zone. He got it on the forecheck behind Primeau’s net and centered to Tatar on the doorstep. Tatar deposited it behind the Habs’ netminder for his first goal in 12 games.
Once time ran down and the final siren went off at Bell Centre, the Devils had put up seven tallies, equaling their season high output this season (the aforementioned 7-3 win over Florida on November 9 and their last win before tonight – the 7-4 win over the Hurricanes at home on January 22, 2022. This was the first time that they had done this on the road this season.
It was also Gillies’ second win in a Devils’ uniform and a more complete performance for him and the team, who finished chances and gave him a lot more goal support tonight.
As a team, the Devils outshot Montreal 34-31 and won 51-percent of the game’s faceoffs. It was Zacha who led the Devils centers with his faceoff winning percentage at a 71-percent personal clip.
The Devils took six total penalty minutes while the Canadiens took four. The Devils were still outplayed physically even with Geertsen back in the lineup, being outhit 21 to 11. New Jersey had 15 blocked shots to the Habs’ eight and 18 team giveaways to Montreal’s nine.
In all, 13 different Devils recorded at least a point on the night with seven notching two points. Mercer had a goal and an assist, McLeod had his second career two-goal NHL game, Boqvist recorded a goal and an assist, Smith had two assists as did Severson and Graves.
In ice time recorded, Jonas Siegenthaler logged the most total time with 22:29 (including 4:17 on the penalty kill). Smith had the most power play time amongst defensemen with 1:10 out of his 19:42 of total ice time.
For the forwards, McLeod led in total ice time with 16:37 logged (which included 3:17 of PK time to lead in shorthanded time on ice as well). Johnsson (who had 15:42 of total ice time), Sharangovich (who logged 15:54 of total ice time), Mercer (16:03 of total ice time) and Tatar (14:26 of total ice time) all led in power play time among the forwards with 1:10 on the man advantage.
Graves led in shots on goal with five. Geertsen registered four hits to lead in that category. Blocks were led by Colton White with four. Personal giveaways were led by White with three while personal Bratt and Boqvist led in personal takeaways with one each.
And with that, the Devils will play their next game on Thursday when they travel to St. Louis to take on the Blues. The Blues have not played since late January – before the All-Star break – so they, in theory should be pretty well rested and pose a challenge for the Devils.
That game will begin at 8 PM ET and is penciled in to be broadcast on MSG+ 2. We will have coverage for you right here following the conclusion of that contest.
Until then, savor tonight’s win and we will see you later in the week as the Devils are back in action!