The two worst teams in the NHL’s Eastern Conference are the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils. Combined they have won 20 of 106 games this season.

Going into Tuesday night’s game in Newark one quarter of those combined wins had come against the Canadiens including three against the Wings and both meetings against New Jersey.   Halfway through the game they appeared well on the way to making themselves six-time losers after a series of horrible mistakes put them in a 3-0 hole.   Going 0-6 against the Red Wings and Devils would have been the ultimate insult to a lost season but, thanks to a comeback engineered by unexpected sources Nick Thompson, Nick Cousins and Christian Folin  the Canadiens turned a looming defeat into an ultimate shootout win.

Not that it’s helping Montreal’s hopeless quest for a playoff berth. Despite four wins in their last six games and six in the last nine they are still  pretty much where they were after their eight game losing streak which is eight points behind Toronto for the third and final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division and eight back of Carolina for the final wild card berth.  And deepening the problem, almost all of the teams ahead of them hold games in hand over the Canadiens.

IT’S NO EXCUSE

The Canadiens went into the game with Carey Price, Victor Mete and Jordan Weal out with so-called flu-like symptoms,  But the Devils had their own problems in that department with defensemen P.K. Subban also down with the virus and their top centre Nico Hischier and defenseman Sami Vatanen with suffering injuries. So medical issues were a wash.

This was simply another game against an inferior opponent for which the Canadiens were not mentally prepared. There’s been a lot of that this year, something that should shine a light on the so-called ‘strong leadership’ of the team.

GAME CHANGER

The Canadiens were already down 2-0 when penalty killer Joel Armia poked a puck free and gave himself a clear shorthanded breakaway, forcing Damon Severson to take a hooking penalty that in my view should have been ruled a penalty shot. Twenty-one seconds later with the teams playing 4-on-4 the Devils made it 3-0. Six minutes later, Max Domi was in the penalty box and Armia got another shorthanded chance. Nobody caught him this time. His second shorthanded goal of the season. The goal woke up a team that had been in a state of hibernation for thirty-three minutes. The Canadiens added three more goals while outshooting the Devils 19-7 the rest of regulation and overtime.

UNEXPECTED SOURCES

The Canadiens comeback was engineered by the group of players we would consider the team’s pluggers. Shortly after the Armia goal, a nice pass from Ryan Poehlng and a burst of sped around Will Butcher narrowed it to 3-2.  Thompson’s first goal in 27 games and Poehling’s first career assist. Nick Cousins took a pass out from Brett Kulak to tie the game and Christian Folin, just up from Laval, scored his first goal of the season to give the Canadiens a 4-3 lead.

BAD SIGN

The nature of penalties can often reflect how badly a team is playing.  . Three of the four Devils goals came in penalty situations; two of them on the power play and another 4-on-4. In all but one instance the Canadiens were put in a bad situation because they were behind the play. Two times for tripping, another holding and the absolutely awful Max Domi penalty for slashing. The other penalty was an unbelievable ‘too many men’ penalty with just over a minute left and the Devils goaltender out for the extra attacker.  Given a 6-on-4 the Devils tied the game with 19.4 seconds remaining.

There were also two unnecessary fights in the game. How often do we see that in this day and age? Another indication of the foul mood the Canadiens had put themselves in with their questionable effort.

THE SUBSTITUTE

Charlie Lindgren simply blew the angle on the Devils first goal. The second goal against him was scored on a power play and on the third his timing was messed up when Jesper Bratt fanned on his shot and the puck slowly slid into the net as Lindgren was sliding across the crease in the opposite direction.

After that he was pretty good although not overworked. His best save the night actually came in the first period when he got a left pad out on a shot by Blake Coleman.   Lindgren also stopped Gusev, Palmieri and Hughes in the shootout.  It was Lindgren’s first win since April 6th of last season.

ALSO WORTH MENTIONING

….The win ended a seven game losing streak against the Devils dating back to December 14, 2017.

….I didn’t think Ilya Kovalchuk had a particularly good game until the overtime. But the good players find ways even when their game is slightly off.  His shootout winner was the stuff that comes from a natural goalscorer.

….This was the second time this season the Canadiens had been down 3-0 in a game and came back to win. They also were down three at Toronto in the season’s second game and came back to win 6-5, also in a shootout.

….Joel Armia has four points his last four games. The goal was his 14th, a career high.  As usual it was a complete game performance.  He attempted eight shots, four of them on goal, along with three hits and four takeaways.

….Should Tomas Tatar’s name even be mentioned at the upcoming trade deadline? With the assist on the Folin goal, Tomas Tatar now has 50 points in 55 games. He’s on track for a 75 point season. The last member of the Canadiens to come close to that total was Alexei Kovalev – 84 points twelve years ago.

…..Considering he didn’t miss a shift on the Canadiens first line, Tatar’s listed five-on-five ice time of 11.43 raised a few eyebrows especially since Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault were around 16 minutes at even strength.   Another example of why, in some arenas, the calibre of statistic keeping can’t be treated seriously.  After the game, Claude Julien also questioned the Danault and Suzuki faceoff statistics.

….Another strong game from Brett Kulak who is clearly thriving alongside Jeff Petry.

….Once again Poehling received fewest on-ice minutes – 9:35. He was feeling the effects of the flu virus were catching up to him and he had to leave the bench a couple of times.

….After holding a 4-1 advantage in high danger scoring chances in the first period, the Devils managed just one dangerous chance in the final two periods while the Canadiens produced four of their own.   In terms of shooting attempts, the Domi/Cousins/Lehkonen line produced ten shots while allowing two – a team-best Corsi number of 83.3%.

MOVING ON

The trade deadline is nineteen days away. The Canadiens return home for three home games in a row; Anaheim Thursday, Toronto Saturday and Arizona on Monday. That will be followed by tough road challenges in Boston and Pittsburgh on Wednesday and Friday of next week.