Unbeaten Devils face Canadiens in Montreal
DEVILS (3-0-0) at CANADIENS (2-1-0)
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This is the first of three meetings between the clubs -- and the only one scheduled for Bell Centre as the Canadiens will visit New Jersey twice this season. The Devils took three of four meetings between the teams last season.
Whenever the Devils are in Montreal, goaltender and native son Martin Brodeur is always the big story. But this time, there is another homecoming for the Devils as rookie forward Stefan Matteau - an American citizen who lives and grew up in Blainville, about a half-hour north of the city - will make his Bell Centre debut. He will likely be doing so in a high-profile spot, as Matteau skated on left wing on the top line Saturday with Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk.
While everyone was wondering how the Devils would overcome the loss of captain Zach Parise to free agency over the summer, the void he's left has not derailed the Stanley Cup runners-up in the least.
The Devils will attempt to go to 4-0-0 in a season for the first time since 1995-96, and they have done it by embracing the same team-first concept that has ruled the organization for what feels like forever.
"It's an organization I admire a lot, because year after year that team competes," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said after practice Saturday. "When you talk about a team concept, you can see that for the Devils, that is more important than anything."
The Devils are coming off a 3-2 overtime win at home against Washington, one in which they blew a 2-0 third-period lead before getting a power-play goal late in overtime from Ilya Kovalchuk to win it.
"There's a trust in that dressing room amongst the guys that if they do their jobs and stick to the system, and if we get the kind of goaltending we've got we have a chance to win every night," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said after the win.
Brodeur is and always has been the x-factor against the Canadiens, with a career record of 43-18-5, a 1.79 goals against average and nine shutouts against his hometown club.
"He's one of the greatest goalies of all time," Therrien said. "We all know Martin likes playing against the Canadiens, he's always motivated for various reasons, which is normal. Anyone from Quebec is always motivated to play here, and I know from having lived it myself."
Montreal is coming off a 4-1 win on the road against the Washington Capitals, its second straight victory after a season-opening 2-1 home loss to the Toronto Maple leafs.
Both those victories have come with young center Lars Eller sitting in the press box, benched for a lackluster effort in that loss to Toronto. But Therrien clearly is not a believer in the maxim of leaving a winning lineup alone, because Eller will play against the Devils.
"We want healthy internal competition," Therrien said. "A priority for us is we don't want that competition to become unhealthy. We don't want him hoping that someone plays poorly or the team plays poorly so he can get back in the lineup. That's not how I do things, I don't believe in that. Team spirit is important to me, with a good team spirit you can go far."
Therrien said his decision to bring Eller back was made Friday night, but it might have been necessary regardless as forward Max Pacioretty missed Saturday's practice with a fever and underwent an emergency appendectomy on Saturday night; he's expected to miss 3-4 weeks. Eller was skating in his spot on left wing of the top line with David Desharnais and Erik Cole on Saturday.
Also, defenseman Yannick Weber may play his first game of the season depending on the status of Tomas Kaberle, who left Saturday's practice after being hit with a puck near the face.
Kovalchuk has at least a point in every game this season and has five points in three games to lead the Devils. … Brodeur has a 0.98 goals against average and .958 save percentage in goal. … Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov had a goal and an assist in Montreal's 4-1 win in Washington, while his blue-line partner on the power play, Raphael Diaz, leads the team with five points, all assists. Goaltender Carey Price has allowed just four goals on 85 shots this season for a save percentage of .953.
The Devils are still missing center Adam Henrique with a torn ligament in his left thumb…The Canadiens could be without both Pacioretty and Kaberle, who's questionable. Montreal is missing center Petteri Nokelainen with a back injury, the timetable for his return is unknown, and restricted free-agent defenseman P.K. Subban remains unsigned.