Hughes' three-point night leads Devils over Canadiens
Montreal head coach Martin St. Louis said the New Jersey Devils’ recent progress from developing team to Stanley Cup contender is something he hopes the Canadiens can take steps toward this season.
"That's what we're after, it takes a little time and it's what you do with that time,” said St. Louis. “We want to be patient but we're gonna have aggressive patience, we're not just gonna wait for it to happen. But yeah, that's what we're chasing."
A young Montreal team without most of its regulars got a taste of top-end NHL talent on Monday night as star Devils centre Jack Hughes had a goal and two assists in a 4-2 New Jersey win over the Canadiens 4-2 in pre-season action.
Jordan Harris, 23, was the oldest blueliner on the ice for Montreal, part of a defence corps that also included sophomores Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Barron and Arber Xhekaj, and rookies Logan Mailloux and David Reinbacher.
Asked if that could represent his future top six defencemen, St. Louis didn’t shut it down.
“It’s possible, it’s possible,” he said. “We have good prospects at that position, so the future is promising.”
Mailloux witnessed Hughes’s elite talent firsthand after trying to make a play on the penalty kill, something St. Louis chalked up to his youth.
With the Canadiens trailing 2-1 in the second period, Mailloux deked Hughes in the offensive zone but ultimately lost the puck.
Hughes then skated the length of the ice while fending off the young defenceman and danced through the Canadiens zone before setting up Dawson Mercer with a wide-open cage at the side of the net, making it 3-1.
"It was kind of a welcome to the NHL moment for sure,” said Mailloux.
Hughes scored himself to give New Jersey a 4-2 lead with a shot from the low right circle at 14:50 of the third period.
Joe Gambardella and Simon Nemec also found the scoresheet for New Jersey (2-0-0). The Devils, who were also hosting the Philadelphia Flyers at home Monday, iced a split-squad team.
Joshua Roy and Josh Anderson replied for Montreal (0-1-0).
Reinbacher, the fifth-overall pick in this year’s draft, earned an assist in his pre-season debut for the Canadiens. The 18-year-old Austrian had one shot and one hit in 15:26 ice time to go with his assist.
"I felt really good right off the start," Reinbacher said of his first NHL experience. "I mean, everything is like perfect, everyone knows their routes, you need to pass perfect on the tape because everyone knows his job, so it makes it a little bit easier."
New Jersey netminder Akira Schmid played the first two periods before Keith Kinkaid took the crease in the third. Kinkaid, however, left shortly after contact with Roy and Schmid returned to the net. Schmid made 16 saves and Kinkaid stopped all seven shots he faced.
Montreal starting goalie Samuel Montembeault turned away 16 of 18 shots, while Jakub Dobes made 11 saves playing the second half of the game.
The Devils were 3-4 on the power play. The Canadiens went 1-2.
With stars Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield sitting out, last year’s No. 1 overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky got an opportunity to play on Montreal’s first line alongside off-season acquisition Alex Newhook and Anderson.
The 19-year-old forward from Slovakia, who had four goals and six assists in 39 games with the Canadiens last season before a season-ending knee injury, had three hits in his first game in nine months.
"I thought he played well tonight, Slaf. He had a slow start, but I thought he was really, really strong in the second, third period,” said St. Louis. “I felt he was getting some touches, and he was using his speed and size."
Roy opened the scoring for Montreal with a power-play goal at 15:59 of the first period by beating Schmid five-hole after forward Xavier Simoneau found him alone in front of the net with a cross-ice pass.
Gambardella replied for New Jersey with a shot that beat a sprawling Montembeault after a net-front scramble to tie it 1-1 at 10:05 in the first.
Despite the goal, Montembeault bailed out his team multiple times in the first, including a couple point-blank saves on Hughes as New Jersey outshot Montreal 13-7 through 20 minutes.
Nemec gave New Jersey the lead three-and-a-half minutes into the second with a bizarre goal after his shot from centre ice ricocheted off the endboards and trickled between Montembeault's pad and the post.
"It's probably one of the worst goals I've ever given up my life," said Montembeault. "Probably going to keep my phone on 'off' for a couple days.
“Better to give those up right now than during the season.”
Mercer added to the lead at 7:18 after Hughes danced through the Canadiens defence and set him up with a wide-open cage at the side of the net.
Anderson cut New Jersey’s lead to 3-2 under two minutes later by finishing off a passing play from off-season acquisition Alex Newhook and top prospect Reinbacher.
After the Devils re-took a two-goal lead in the third period, the Canadiens had multiple opportunities to cut the deficit, including a miss by Newhook with a wide-open net midway through the frame and a shot on the doorstep by Guhle with the goalie pulled, but New Jersey hung on.
Montreal hosts the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. New Jersey plays on the road in New York on Thursday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2023.