If you would have sat me down before the season began with a copy of the full 82-game schedule for the Canadiens, and asked “Hey, Josh. Which game do you think is going to be the most boring one to watch?” I definitely would have picked the mid-season, January road game in New Jersey.
Little would I have known that the game itself would be a huge breath of fresh air in a week full of struggles. It wasn’t an absolute barn-burner, like the 5-4 comeback victory over the Rangers that occurred a week ago. What the game lacked in drama and excitement, it completely made up for in the fact that the team finally played well.
The previous two games, losses to both Detroit and Pittsburgh, were like watching paint dry as a Canadiens’ fan. The team seemed to have no jump, no spark, no offensive creativity.
Despite the fact that injured players like Alex Galchenyuk and Andrew Shaw were finally making their way back into the line-up, the team seemed to lose momentum from their returns rather than be inspired by them. Although it seemed like they were sinking into a mid-season funk, the Devils game provided fans some reasons to focus on better times ahead.
One reason is that they were actually shooting the puck. In the previous two games, the Canadiens combined for 38 shots total, making the goalies they were facing look like Patrick Roy in the playoffs. The amount of shots being passed up for that one extra fancy pass that would eventually either get blocked or misfired was enough to make even the sanest of fans want to rip their hair out.
In the Devils game, the team was able to generate 26 shots on the Devils’ back-up, Keith Kinkaid. They kept the game simple by putting pucks on net and looking for rebounds. If you can continue to do this, as well as limit the amount of shots the other team gets (the Devils only had 17 shots total), chances are you’re going to be successful more often than not.
Another reason was their power-play (PP), both in drawing calls and executing on the chances. Any player or coach will tell you that a key factor in a team drawing penalties is using their speed and moving their feet.
For a Canadiens team that were barely drawing any calls in the two games previous, they were able to draw seven power-play attempts, including a crucial five-minute boarding call in the third period that lead to two goals. The team scored all three of their tallies on the man advantage, with their big named players Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty, and Shea Weber all finding their way into the goal column. Hopefully this gives a boost of confidence to a power-play unit that has been struggling as of late.
If there is one thing that has stayed consistent lately for the Canadiens, it’s been the play of back-up goalie, Al Montoya. He didn’t have to do much, but despite allowing a goal very early in the game, he bounced back to make the saves that he had to in order to secure the victory.
This latest win against the Devils is Montoya’s fourth in four starts. With all-star goalie Carey Price struggling at the moment, it may give Canadiens cause to start giving him some more games. There is no goalie controversy, let’s get that straight, but giving Price more rest as he attempts to iron out some kinks in his game may be something that the Canadiens will explore moving forward.
What looked on the outside as a potential mid-season snooze-fest, ended up being one of the better efforts on behalf of the Habs. It was something that will hopefully lay the foundation for things to come as the season progresses. The moral of the story for Friday night as a fan? Don’t judge a game by it’s cover.