Jason Arnott notched his team-leading ninth of the season on Thursday.
The Devils’ smooth run on home ice hit choppy waters on Thursday.
They were caught flat-footed for Brian Gionta’s goal 11 seconds into the game and never recovered in a 5-1 loss to the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
A frustrated John MacLean said his club wasn’t ready when the puck dropped.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing,” said the head coach. “They outplayed us in every aspect of the game. They were prepared to play, we weren’t.”
Johan Hedberg gave up two goals on three shots and was relieved by Mike McKenna 1:38 into the contest. Gionta and Lars Eller scored 87 seconds apart to chase Hedberg, who had stopped 113 of 117 shots in his previous four outings.
MacLean didn’t fault his goalie, but did hope the switch would get the team going.
“They weren’t playing in front of him that well that early,” he said.
It was a tough turn for Hedberg, who was coming off a 40-save performance in Saturday’s shootout win over the Flyers. The Devils visit Philadelphia on Saturday.
“We take steps forward and we take steps back, and that’s disappointing,” Hedberg said. “We have to be a little bit more consistent.”
He wasn’t expecting the early hook.
“Surprised? Yeah, probably,” Hedberg said. “But I didn’t stop the puck, so stuff happens.”
Jason Arnott’s team-leading ninth goal of the season put the Devils on the board at 8:18 of the third period. Carey Price recorded 27 saves for the win.
The Devils (8-15-2) saw their home winning streak snapped at four games. They had taken three of their last four and looked to be pointed in the right direction after a shaky start.
The Northeast Division-leading Canadiens flew into New Jersey after an overtime loss to Edmonton the night before. Montreal blew a 3-1 third-period lead on home ice.
“I don’t know [why they weren’t prepared],” MacLean said. “You would have to ask a lot of them. We knew Montreal was coming off an OT loss giving up the lead. They were ready, our guys, for some reason thought they would have time to get into it. They never got into it. When you play against a good club like Montreal, they embarrass you.”
Hoping for a spark, MacLean shuffled his lines in the second and third periods.
"You’re trying everything to see if you can get something going," he said. "I could’ve benched nine guys, but you can’t. You have to try and see if somebody’ll get going."
McKenna helped steady the Devils with 11 stops in the final 18:22 of the first, and finished with 26 saves in 58:22. The Devils avoided a three-goal hole when Tomas Plekanec missed on a penalty shot at 7:27.
Plekanec was awarded the shot after he was taken down on his way to the net by Matt Corrente.
"It didn't go in, so that was good," McKenna said. "If you want to find a way to get into a hockey game, a penalty shot will do it for you. I just try to play it like any other penalty shot or breakaway I've had."
It looked as though McKenna made a catching glove or right pad save, but he indicated otherwise.
"I don't think I got any piece of it," he said. "If I did I would've gotten it with the outside of my arm. I think it went clean off the [left] post."
It was the fourth penalty shot in a Devils game this season. The previous three resulted in goals: Alex Ovechkin vs. Martin Brodeur on Oct. 9; Henrik Sedin vs. Martin Brodeur on Nov. 1; Mattias Tedenby vs. Braden Holtby on Nov. 22.
Montreal struck three times in the second period to pull away. Tom Pyatt’s jam shot through traffic was waved off on the ice, but counted after a video review showed it crossing the line at 2:30. Scott Gomez roofed a rebound on the power play to make it 4-0 at 8:37. Eighty seconds later, Benoit Pouliot scored over McKenna’s catching glove for a 5-0 count.
The Devils couldn't connect on a two-minute 5-on-3 power play when Hamrlik and Eller were both called for tripping at 17:06 of the second.
As ugly as it got on the scoresheet, it was still a special night for Devils’ forward Stephen Gionta, who faced his older brother Brian in an organized game for the first time.
“Going in it was a great experience being able to play against him,” Stephen Gionta said. “We’re here to get the two points and that didn’t happen tonight.”
It was the elder Gionta who set the tone early for the Habs, when he tapped in a Roman Hamrlik rebound to open the scoring.
“I thought I had it,” Hedberg said of the original shot. “It trickled loose, they jumped on it and put it in.”
It was 2-0 when Eller’s wraparound goal went off Hedberg’s left skate and snuck inside the right post.
Gionta's goal tied Saku Koivu (1/5/06, 5-4 win over Montreal) for the second fastest goal allowed by the Devils to start a home game. The fastest came from Washington's Yvon Corriveau who scored 10 seconds into a 3-2 Devils win on Jan. 24, 1990. … Jamie Langenbrunner returned after missing eight games with a neck injury. He saw 25 shifts for 20:11 of ice time. … Corrente was back in the lineup after two games missed (upper body), and played 17:38. … Martin Brodeur is not expected to practice with the team Friday, but could skate. He has not played since aggravating his bruised right elbow in Toronto on Nov. 18. … The Albany Devils (AHL) play the first of four games at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall beginning this Sunday, when they battle Adirondack at 4 p.m.
1 - 0 MTL
2 - 0 MTL