Entering the midway point of their season, the New Jersey Devils are among the biggest surprises in the NHL under rookie coach John Hynes.
The Montreal Canadiens continue to be underwhelming.
The Devils seek a bounce-back effort as they try to send the foundering Canadiens to a 13th loss in 16 games Wednesday night.
New Jersey (20-15-4) was expected to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season as it rebuilt under Hynes, the youngest coach in the league at 40.
Instead, the Devils hold the first of two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference and are three points back of the New York Rangers for third in the Metropolitan Division.
"When we came in, one of the things we wanted to try to build was a culture that (general manager) Ray Shero, myself and the other coaches wanted to have in there," Hynes told the team's official website. "It was about what will our environment around the rink be like and what type of players and people do we want working here every day. That's gone really well."
Bobby Farnham is comfortable playing for Hynes after spending three seasons with him at Wilkes-Barre of the AHL. The pair were reunited after Farnham was waived by Pittsburgh in October.
"The way he approaches every day is why he's successful, because he's very detailed in how we play with our structure," Farnham said. "He's very good expressing to us the identity we have to play with, and then tweaking certain things to each team that we play.
"He's always prepared. And he knows how to get the most out of the guys on his team."
That's certainly true for Farnham, who has a career-high five goals but is known more for dropping his gloves.
Kyle Palmieri is also responding to Hynes' approach, leading the Devils with a career-high 17 goals, and his 30 points are one shy of his personal record set with Anaheim two seasons ago.
He has four goals and one assist in the past six games but came up empty on five shots in Monday's 1-0 loss to Detroit.
Palmieri scored with 22 seconds left in regulation before defenseman John Moore found the net in overtime of a 3-2 win at Montreal on Nov. 28. The Devils fell 3-2 in a shootout to the Canadiens a day earlier in the opener of the home-and-home set.
The Habs (22-15-3) have lost 12 of their last 15 games, tumbling from first to third in the Atlantic Division.
They concluded a 2-6-0 road trip with a 4-3 defeat to Philadelphia on Tuesday, ruining any momentum created by their 5-1 win over Boston in the Winter Classic four days prior.
"Emotionally we were not there," coach Michel Therrien said. "We just have to be better."
Showing improvement defensively is vital as Montreal is giving up an average of 3.07 goals over the last 15 games, surrendering three or more in all but two. That's not helped by Carey Price's continued absence due to a leg injury.
Mike Condon is 4-7-1 with a 2.73 goals-against average in 12 starts since replacing Price as the starter. That began with Condon making 25 saves and turning aside four shootout attempts at New Jersey on Nov. 27 before stopping 28 shots the next day.
The Canadiens are hoping playing their first home game since Dec. 17 while opening a three-game homestand will help.
"It's going to feel good to be back home, in front of our fans, following a couple of tough games on the road," defenseman Mark Barberio said.