Riding in with a five-game win streak, the Habs were in tough on Tuesday night as they faced a Blues team that had lost three straight and were desperate to keep pace with the best from the Central Division. After playing the last three games against teams who are below the Canadiens in the standings, facing a hungry Blues team with a 17-8-2 record coming into the game was going to be a challenge. Montreal was able to make a game of it in the third period, but the Blues, who were the better team on this night, left the Bell Centre with a 3-2 victory.
The Blues’ desire to win this game was evident from the opening faceoff as they controlled play for the opening five minutes. While all defenders appeared like they were going to have their hands full with their big bodies down low, the forward line of Charles Hudon, Brendan Gallagher, and Tomas Plekanec really struggled out of the gate as they spent their first two shifts hemmed into their zone. On the second of such shifts, Plekanec lost two consecutive puck races and Jeff Petry inexplicably left the front of the net leaving Brayden Schenn open. Results were as expected as Schenn converted for an early 1-0 St. Louis lead.
Montreal fought back over the next few shifts, but that was thwarted when Plekanec, playing a much more determined shift, took a slashing minor of the “new-rule” variety. Montreal successfully killed the penalty, and as Plekanec exited the penalty box, he was hit solidly after the whistle which rightfully drew a crowd. The Habs took control of the period from this point on, which finally resulted in a power play with seven minutes to play. The Blues would earn the best chance of the sequence as Jaden Schwartz got a breakaway that Price was able to stop. Immediately after the man advantage, a strong forecheck by Daniel Carr and Tomas Plekanec resulted in a Jordie Benn clapper from the point that beat a heavily screened Jake Allen (thank you Carr!) to even the game with four minutes to play in the period.
St. Louis came out strong in the second as they used their big bodies and the Habs had no answer. With only 2:32 expired, Scottie Upshall was gifted a wide-open net after Gallagher didn’t cover his man and Benn was unable to handle Dmitrij Jaskin going wide. Only seven seconds later, Danault didn’t stay on his centre off the draw. Schenn got away uncontested and put one home to make it 3-1 early in the period. Only one minute later, Joel Edmundson would be gifted a similar occasion off the blueline, but he hit the post.
Still only six minutes into the period, Gallagher would take a high-sticking penalty. Luckily for them, they successfully killed the penalty, though they remained firmly on their heels once it expired. Montreal benefitted from a strange play at the midway point of the period as Jake Allen’s skate smashed the post and his skate blade went flying off the skate. Carter Hutton came into the game as Allen was taken to the dressing room for equipment repair, but the Habs were unable to even manage a single shot on Hutton during his 3:27 of play. As Allen returned to his net, Byron Froese was called for yet another slashing minor. The penalty was once again killed, and then Montreal found a way back into the game.
With 2:56 to play, Andrew Shaw won a faceoff and Shea Weber completely missed his shot. The result was unexpected as the puck took one of the strangest trajectories I’ve ever seen as it stood on its side and curved around Allen’s pad and bring the Canadiens within one goal of tying the game. In the final minute of the period, Nicolas Deslauriers earned some points with the coaching staff and fanbase as he landed a big hit in the Blues’ zone, made a nice defensive play, and just missed a breakaway pass.
The Blues once again returned to form to start the period as they forechecked the Habs into near-submission. This time, Price put his stamp on this game as he multiplied the saves, and some spectacular saves were made. Price held the fort just long enough for his teammates to find their legs, and when they did, they quickly tied the game. Another offensive zone faceoff win by Andrew Shaw Shea Weber. This time, he got his cannon of a shot off to beat Allen for his second of the night. Despite being outplayed heavily, it was a tie game with 13 minutes to play.
The tying goal gave the Habs all of the momentum as Gallagher missed two excellent scoring chances on the very next shift. With Montreal firmly back in this game, St. Louis returned to playing the role of the bully as they were rather lucky to get away with more than a few plays while Montreal buzzed around their zone. Deslauriers responded in kind with a big hit that likely should have been called also. With the play decidedly taking place into the Blues’ zone, the unexpected happened and the Blues came down the side boards and got an extremely lucky bounce as Schenn’s missed pass deflected off David Schlemko’s skate and Schenn was credited with his hat-trick goal. This goal left the Habs winded and without an answer as most of the rest of the game was spent in their zone. Frankly, Montreal wasn’t even able to get any good scoring chance in the last minute of play, a disappointing end to what was an interesting third period for the Habs.
Karma and Puck Luck
It appeared as though Montreal had evened the game and was going to escape with a point on this night. It would have been some poetic justice as they absolutely did not deserve a point. This being said, how many times did they deserve better in games earlier this season but were unable to capitalize on their multiple chances? Earning a point would have been some karma on the season, though puck luck on the Schenn goal denied them of that opportunity.
Full Carey Price Effect
For the better part of the initial 50 minutes of play, the Blues essentially dominated the game. Carey Price’s play and his reputation came to the rescue and allowed Montreal to stick around and make this game close much longer than Montreal likely deserved. Price made some awesome saves, but before he had to make them, his presence alone appeared to intimidate the Blues who often looked for the perfect play instead of the logical one. As long as this type of effect is working in the Habs’ favour, they should remain in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.
Blueline Shows Its True Colours?
As Brendan Gallagher wisely stated on Saturday night, no player is as good as he looks when the team is winning or as bad as he looks when the team is losing. The blueline looked completely incapable of handling the size and speed of the Blues, so a brigade that has taken its fair share of criticism this season for being too slow and definitely not mobile enough was handled by the visitors on this night. Was this a case of the blueline having an off night? Or was this their true colours with four of the five recent wins coming against weaker clubs making them appear stronger than they really are? Look to David Schlemko in the next few games as a good indicator of the true answer to these questions. He appeared to be a solid top-4 defender in his first three contests but looked lost out there in this one.