Stefan Matteau has quickly moved up the New Jersey Devils depth chart. He started as an intriguing rookie prospect in training camp, working his way onto the team’s fourth line.
After three games in the bottom six, Matteau earned a promotion, debuting tonight on the top line as the New Jersey Devils make their only trip to the Bell Centre against the Montreal Canadiens.
Matteau, born in Chicago, is essentially from Montreal. He has family from Blainville, Ont., about 25 minutes from the arena, expects to have at least 10 members of his family there. It’s an opportunity the rookie appreciates.
“It’s going to be great for me and my family for sure,” he told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “It’s my hometown. I don’t know if you can call it a homecoming, but it will be great.”
The rookie can lean on Martin Brodeur for dealing with the nerves that come from playing in front of the Bell Centre crowd. The Devils netminder, a Montreal native, is a stellar 19-8-1 with a 1.53 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in Montreal, and still gets nervous before these games.
“You grow up in an area that hockey is everything, so you idolize that team,” Brodeur told Gulitti. “For him, it might be different because he spent his younger years traveling in the United States everywhere because his dad played everywhere. But, he’s from there (Montreal) and I remember, for me, it was really fun. It was nerve-racking a little bit – just the national anthem and speaking French in the arena, it’s just so different than what we’re used to here in the states.”
The Bell Centre holds special meaning for Brodeur.
“I tied Patrick Roy’s record (for most wins on March 14, 2009) there and they gave me a standing ovation,” he told Gulitti. “That was probably one of the most fun things that happened to me in that arena. But people there understand the game of hockey, so when good players come, I think they appreciate it.”
New Jersey enters the game with a perfect 3-0 record, the first time they’ve reached that mark since 2002-03. Brodeur has been a big part of that success, allowing just three goals on 71 shots. His .958 save percentage is the third highest in the league. He recorded 26 saves on Friday night, backstopping the Devils to a 3-2 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored the game-winner, blasting a shot from the below the left circle that beat Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth. Stephen Gionta and Patrik Elias also scored for New Jersey, who have at least one goal from five different players.
After dropping its season opener, Montreal enters today riding a two-game win streak. The Canadiens defeated the Capitals, 4-1, Thursday night at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. Montreal scored all of its goals in the second period, including three in the first ten minutes, to bury Washington.
Montreal is second in the NHL in goals against, allowing just four in its three games played.
The Canadiens will be without Max Pacioretty, who underwent an emergency appendectomy and will miss the next three-to-four weeks. He had four assists and 10 shots this season.
The Devils have won eight straight at the Bell Centre. Their last loss came on March 11, 2008.
Here’s a look at last season’s matchup:
December 10, 2011: Canadiens – 2, Devils – 1 @ Prudential Center
The two teams kicked off the season series on a slow note, failing to score in the first period. Pacioretty netted the series first goal in the second period, giving Montreal an early advantage. Erik Cole added to the lead in the third period, pushing the advantage to two. Nick Palmieri cut the Devils deficit in half, but New Jersey couldn’t overcome Carey Price. The Montreal goalie stopped 28 shots for the win. Brodeur made 22 saves in the loss.
December 17, 2011: Devils – 5, Canadiens – 3 @ Bell Centre
New Jersey got its revenge in the rematch between the two teams just one week later. Petr Sykora started the scoring, giving New Jersey a 1-0 lead after the first period. The teams combined for five goals in the middle frame, and entered the third period tied, 3-3. The Devils took over after that, with Elias and Dainius Zubrus netting goals to pull New Jersey ahead. Price allowed all five goals, finishing with 30 saves. Brodeur stopped 23 of 26 shots.
February 2, 2012: Devils – 5, Canadiens – 3 @ Prudential Center
nNew Jersey once again hung five goals on the Canadiens, but the final result masks the difficult win for the Devils. They fell behind quickly, with David Desharnais and Andrei Kostitsyn scoring to put the Devils in a 2-0 hole in the opening frame. Zach Parise cut the deficit in half, and the Devils ended the first period trailing, 2-1. Matthieu Darche pushed Montreal’s lead back to two goals with a shorthanded tally just 1:35 into the second period. New Jersey roared back, scoring four unanswered goals to skate away with the win. Price finished with just 17 saves in the loss. Brodeur stopped 27 of 30 shots in the win.
February 19, 2012: Devils – 3, Canadiens – 1 @ Bell Centre
New Jersey won the final game of the season series, needing only three goals to stretch unbeaten streak at the Bell Centre. Parise, David Clarkson and Matt Taormina all scored for the Devils. Pacioretty tallied the lone goal for Montreal. New Jersey defeated Price for the third straight time, with the Canadiens goalie stopping 22 shots in the loss. Brodeur made 21 saves for the win.