– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEWARK, NJ — No matter if it is indeed the production on the playing surface that leads to confidence or vice versa, what has become evident over the past three games is that New Jersey Devils center Pavel Zacha, after a brief interruption from playing in the NHL, has an abundance of both, and that may help to lead the Devils back to the form they hope to achieve in the near future.
Zacha scored twice on Wednesday evening, including one on the power play, as New Jersey defeated the Montréal Canadiens 5-2 at the Prudential Center, the Devils’ seventh win in 10 home games this season.
Scoring a goal in his third consecutive game, Zacha seems to have found the form that made the Devils spend the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft on him. However, Zacha’s play since his time in the NHL has been erratic, and his goalless, zero-point October to begin the season prompted the Devils to send him down to the team’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton at the beginning of November. In the five games since his recall, Zacha has registered a plus-4 rating while scoring his first goals – and points – of the season.
In his last three games, which has seen him score all of his four goals this season, Zacha has taken 11 shots, three more than the number of shots he took in nine October games combined.
Zacha’s first goal came on a backhand in front of goal at 10:01 of the second period, just 62 seconds after Taylor Hall’s sixth goal of the season gave New Jersey a 3-1 lead and proved to the the game winner. Three minutes later, the Devils found themselves with a power play, and Zacha found himself free on goal after an long outlet pass from defenseman Damon Severson. Zacha made a deke on Canadiens goalkeeper Carey Price before squeezing a shot past Price and extending New Jersey’s lead to 5-1.
Along with his offensive prowess tonight, Zacha also had five of the Devils’ 18 takeaways in the contest.
New Jersey never trailed in the contest, going ahead at the 6:26 mark of the first when Kyle Palmieri deflected a shot from the point by defenseman Andy Greene past Price for his team-leading 12th goal of the season and a 1-0 lead. As the Prudential Center crowd was still buzzing, the Canadiens tied the score 24 seconds later, as Jonathan Drouin’s forehand wrist shot from the left circle tied up Devils goalkeeper Keith Kinkaid and sailed over his left shoulder and into the net to even the contest.
New Jersey reclaimed the lead at 16:55 of the first when Nico Hischier scored on a one-timer off of a pass from behind the net by Hall, who now has a team-leading 15 assists.
Drouin and Andrew Shaw each scored two points for the Canadiens, as they wrapped tonight’s scoring with Max Domi’s 11th goal of the season at 10:52 of the third. Domi’s goal extended his point-scoring streak to 11 games, as he has registered a point in each of Montréal’s games this month.