Red-hot Devils back home to face struggling Canadiens (Jan 20, 2017)
Have the New Jersey Devils turned a corner? Have they finally righted a ship that appeared to be sinking after a hot first month of the season?
The Devils return home to face the Atlantic-leading Montreal Canadiens on Friday night after a 3-0-1 road trip that included victories over Calgary, Vancouver and the Minnesota Wild, who lead the Western Conference with 61 points.
After starting 9-3-3, the Devils were 7-15-5 before their four-game road trip they hope is a sign of positive things to come.
"It was important going into the road trip that, as we said coming into it, we get some real quality back into our game and find a way to get wins and points and play better and we've been able to do that," Devils coach John Hynes said to The Record after the Wild victory. "We knew, coming in, it was going to be a difficult game. One of the things we talked about was having some staying power. Our goal coming in was to be much more competitive in these types of games where you're playing a team like the Wild that has had a lot of success."
Perhaps the most impressive part of the trip is the fact that all four games (and six straight total) were played without top defenseman Andy Greene. The Devils have been off since playing Tuesday so perhaps the extra rest will be enough to Greene and his injured hand back in the lineup.
"It's the bottom arm there," Greene told The Record. "There's so much pressure trying to pass it or shoot it. It's getting better but it's not there yet. I am impatient but, at the same time, I can't function out there. Maybe when it gets a little bit closer and I can really start to do everything, it might be a little more tough. There's nothing to do about it but try and get better."
There's never a good time to face Carey Price, but this would have been the best time for the Devils to see one of the NHL's top goaltenders.
Perhaps unfortunately for the Devils, the Canadiens will go with backup goaltender Al Montoya in New Jersey.
Price, who won the Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy two years ago, has allowed 20 goals in his past five starts and since Dec. 1 his save percentage is .893; Montoya has won three straight starts -- all on the road -- with a not great but respectable .911 save percentage over that time.
With three losses in four games and just one goal over the last two, coach Michel Therrien isn't just making a change in goal -- he's making moves throughout his lineup.
He dropped center Alex Galchenyuk from the top line at practice Thursday and rearranged his defense pairings.
"I don't like the fact that we don't generate much offensively, so you have to make adjustments," Therrien said to the Montreal Gazette.
"We tried to make adjustments (during Wednesday's 4-1 loss to the Penguins). Obviously, it didn't work like we were expecting with the new pairing with our two bottom pairing defensemen. But we can't forget we got success in the past when those guys played together as a team. We were hoping for better results yesterday. We didn't get the result so we're going to go back where we were."
"No excuses, we've just got to find a way," Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber said to the Montreal Gazette. "We don't have many games left here before the (All-Star) break. So we got to find a way to dig in and get it in and then guys can relax for a little bit after that."