Surging Devils take on struggling Canadiens

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The New Jersey Devils continue to push for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

The Devils have a big opportunity to continue their winning ways when they visit the struggling Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.

New Jersey is coming off its 3-2 shootout road win over the Washington Capitals on Thursday, when Dawson Mercer netted one goal and one assist to give him 19 points (11-8-19) in an 11-game point streak. The Devils are on a 5-1-1 run that has them four points back of the Hurricanes.

New Jersey has watched Mercer’s game explode, but he is not the only player contributing. Timo Meier is starting to find his stride since being acquired via trade from the San Jose Sharks and scored the shootout winner. Fellow forward Erik Haula has netted three goals and three assists in his last three games.

“We’ve all seen my season so far,” Haula said. “The start of the year was kind of crazy, and just having a shooting percentage of 3 (percent) is insane, it’s almost embarrassing.

“I’m getting some bounces now and it feels good.”

Meier has one goal in three games since joining the Devils, but while skating regularly on a line with Jack Hughes and Jesper Boqvist, he has become more and more involved. The six shots on goal he fired against Washington is a sign he is nearing a breakout, on top of gaining a confidence boost with the shootout tally.

Meier’s winning goal was also a relief after he was assessed a tripping penalty in overtime and anxiously watched his teammates kill it.

“It was the second time now that I take a dumb penalty,” Meier said. “It’s great by our PK to kill it off and gave us a chance in the shootout.”

The Canadiens sit at the bottom of the Atlantic Division and are winless in five games (0-3-2), the latest Thursday’s 4-3 shootout defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers.

Taking into account Montreal’s seemingly never-ending injury woes, it would be easy to say the season has been a complete write-off. On Thursday, the club announced rookie defenseman Arber Xhekaj had season-ending shoulder surgery, forward Kirby Dach will be out indefinitely and forward Brendan Gallagher will be sidelined three to four weeks.

However, all five defeats in this current slump have come by one goal.

“We could have been 5-0 in that stretch,” goalie Sam Montembeault said. “I think we’re playing well, everybody’s competing. The bounces are going to go our way soon, but I’m just really proud of the effort of the guys.”

The Canadiens, who surrendered a trio of one-goal leads against the Rangers, have dropped consecutive shootout clashes. The previous defeat was against the Hurricanes.

Then again, how much can you expect for a team that has been decimated by injuries as the Canadiens have been this season? Only four of the 12 forwards who faced the Rangers were on the team when the campaign opened in October.

“We’re showing we’re in every game,” coach Martin St. Louis said. “This game could have gone either way. Last game could have gone either way, and a lot of our games on the road could have gone either way. I think the guys are seeing that, so they’re not coming to the rink feeling sorry for themselves. They bring enthusiasm.”