NEWARK, NJ – Five was the number of the evening for the New Jersey Devils Wednesday night, when they faced the Montreal Canadiens.
Five players notched two points in the Devils’ fifth straight win, a 5-2 success that solidified New Jersey as tops in the Atlantic Division at the All-Star Break.
“We played very solid tonight. We played well. We were able to score goals at the right times. We did a lot of good things tonight,” said Coach Brent Sutter.
New Jersey now has five days to rest, or represent the team in Montreal in the case of Zach Parise, before beginning the second half of the season in Ottawa.
“Coming off the road trip, we felt we were playing very strong. To get this win like we did tonight going into the break was huge for us. We don’t want to stop that momentum that we have going and the good feeling we have going,” said goalie Scott Clemmensen, who stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced.
Clemmensen set the tone early in the game, stopping several close-range shots by sliding side to side with about five minutes gone. From there, the defense took over.
With 11:52 remaining in the first, defenseman Paul Martin charged out of the penalty box after a cross-checking call, and took the puck from Patrick Elias straight up the middle of the ice.
Martin fired from right outside the crease and put the puck past Canadien goaltender Carey Price, who was in his first full game back from eight games missed due to injury.
“He had the pads open a little bit, and I tried to sneak it through there and luckily it went through there,” Martin said.
The defensemen remained the story for the Devils, overshadowing Brendan Shanahan’s first start at home in a New Jersey sweater since 1991.
“My defensemen were unbelievable tonight, moving the puck, finding the puck, boxing guys out, clearing rebounds, moving it up, just everything. They were awesome tonight. And they contributed offensively as well,” praised Clemmensen. “My ‘D’ tonight were outstanding, best game of the year.”
The blue-liners received another point six minute into the second period. Johnny Oduya fed the puck to Parise. Parise’s shot from the left dot was stopped, but Travis Zajac crashed the net and put the puck in before Price undercut and toppled him.
Oduya then teamed up with Martin, with less than two minutes left in the second, for the team’s third goal. Martin passed the puck to a waiting Oduya, who fired the puck past Price.
The play was set up when David Clarkson made a big hit in the corner to help keep the puck in the zone.
With a 3-1 lead heading into the third period, the Devils moved into shutdown mode.
“I think you have to concentrate a little more. With us we can’t sit back and relax. We try to get the puck in and cycle with our big forwards who do a good job down there, concentrate on not turning the puck over and do a good job of shutting down defensively,” Martin described of the team’s third-period strategy.
Montreal was able to score a power play goal in the third when Matt D’Agostini went top shelf on Clemmensen, who had Max Pacioretty screening in front.
But New Jersey’s offense answered back. Parise scored his 28th goal of the season, on an unassisted play from the left wing, and Patrick Elias sealed the game with 55 seconds left by putting in an empty-netter, his 20th of the season.
After the game, attention turned to Shanahan, who saw time on the power play, the penalty kill and on several different lines.
“The timing of coming back now is good, because we get a little bit of a break. I’ll be skating, I won’t be taking a full break, but there won’t be the intensity of the games,” Shanahan said of his immediate plans, after revealing he was feeling “a good kind of sore.”
The veteran said he was glad to see ice time in the different situations.
“You know, there’s a part of you that wants to dive in and do everything, but I think we have a plan, it’s a good plan, and it’s working slowly,” explained Shanahan.
With the changing lines and impending break, the Devils could have made excuses for a poor performance Wednesday night. But the importance of going into the break on top of the division and performing well against a conference foe was not taken for granted.
“They play a very similar style to us, they’re a great team, there’s no weaknesses at any position. It was one of those things where we were fortunate to come out ahead,” said Clemmensen.