Habs open brief road trip at New Jersey

The Montreal Canadiens cross the border to spend U.S. Thanksgiving in the States this week, opening up a two-game road trip against the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night at the Prudential Center.

The Canadiens (11-6-4) have little interest in Thursday’s holiday and day off, but instead itch to get back on the ice in New Jersey after blowing a two-goal lead and losing their last game, a 5-4 overtime defeat on home ice to the Washington Capitals on Monday.

Montreal scored three straight goals to open the second period and secure that lead on Monday before falling flat the rest of the way and failing to extend their win streak to three games. Goaltender Carey Price made 29 saves, including a spectacular stop on Washington’s Alex Ovechkin in the final seconds of regulation, earning the praise of his teammates and the respect from Ovechkin, who applauded Price after the play.

“Carey got us a point (Monday) night,” Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar told the Montreal Gazette.

While the loss was frustrating, it did not put a damper on Montreal’s strong first quarter of the season. After finishing 28th overall in the NHL last season, the Canadiens are fifth overall in the Eastern Conference through 21 games and lead the league in goals scored 5-on-5.

“We went through what we went through last year and no one here wants that again,” said Canadiens alternate captain Brendan Gallagher. “From day one we’ve created a culture here this season that’s about hard work, doing the right things. And everyone is buying in.”

Canadiens forward Max Domi leads the team with 25 points, and his ten goals already exceed his total from each of the previous two seasons. He brings a ten-game point-scoring streak into Wednesday’s game. Rookie center Jesperi Kotkaniemi is tied for second in scoring among NHL rookies with 12 points.

One area of concern for the Canadiens is the team’s overall health. Team captain Shea Weber has yet to play a game following offseason surgery, while forwards Joel Armia and Paul Byron remain on injured reserve. And now defenseman Noah Juulsen is sidelined indefinitely with facial fractures suffered while blocking a shot against the Capitals.

To take Juulsen’s roster spot, the Canadiens recalled forward Michael Chaput from the minor leagues on Tuesday.

The struggling Devils (8-9-2), who are tied for last place with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the East, received better news on the injury front Wednesday. Top-line center Nico Hischier practiced in his normal spot between Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri and is expected to return to the lineup after missing four games with a thumb injury.

“Sitting up there (in the press box) is tough,” Hischier told reporters after practice. “When the team is playing well, it’s great, you’re having fun up there, too. But when it’s not going well, you want to help.”

The Devils won the first two games Hischier sat out, but lost the two most recent games, including Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Hurricanes in Carolina. New Jersey scored just three goals in its last two games.

“He’s a big part of our team,” Hall said of Hischier, who has 12 points in 15 games. “He’s our top line center. Hopefully, he’s ready and healthy to go, maybe even a bit more energized after seeing some games off.”

Devils center Brian Boyle and defenseman Sami Vatanen both remain on injured reserve and will not play against the Canadiens. However, both skated on Tuesday and inch closer to returning to practice.

In their absence, the Devils need other players to step up and produce. The team desperately needs more production from defenseman Will Butcher, who has only one goal and seven points; forward Marcus Johansson, who sits on two goals and five points; and wingers Miles Wood and Stefan Noesen, who have combined for two goals.

“We are at our best when everyone is contributing,” said Devils forward Blake Coleman.

Last season, the Devils took five of a possible six points in three head-to-head meetings with the Canadiens. New Jersey scored four of its nine goals in the season series — three power play, one short-handed — on special teams and limited Montreal to only seven goals total.