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Returning to action after the All-Star Game, the Habs were faced with the physically imposing and strategically well-balanced St. Louis Blues. To make matters worse, it appears that the Canadiens are no closer to getting reinforcements from any of Shea Weber, Andrew Shaw, or Phillip Danault, all still sidelined with various injuries. Claude Julien made one change for this game as Joe Morrow got in the lineup at the expense of Jordie Benn, who was paying the price for an absolutely atrocious effort versus the Hurricanes last week. All of these changes were without consequence as the Canadiens fell 3-1 to the Blues despite playing a decent game.

The opening two minutes of play was action packed as both teams exchanged chances. Paul Byron got the missed opportunity festival underway as he was unable to get a rebound over Carter Hutton’s pad. At the other end, Carey Price was threatened, though the puck missed the net immediately after. Finally, both Nicolas Deslauriers and Jonathan Drouin were denied by Hutton on point blank shots, though neither chances came with any traffic in front of the net. After this initial flurry of activity concluded, both teams slowed down considerably as the teams began playing safe after likely drawing some criticism from their respective coaches for the loose play to start the game.

The first penalty of the game then went the way of the Blues as Jay Bouwmeester was guilty of breaking Drouin’s stick with a slash on a rather innocent looking rush by the Montreal forward. Not only was the power play unable to score, they were not able to threaten Hutton’s net, thus failing to create positive momentum for the team. What followed the man advantage was a good five minutes of uneventful skating for both teams as the Blues spent most of their energy successfully defending. This was proven when they executed their first shot on Price with over 16 minutes played in the period. The Canadiens were clearly controlling the play but were simply far too content to keep the play along the boards instead of threatening Hutton’s crease. While the play of the Canadiens was rather good in the period, the idea that the period ended with a 0-0 score was not a good omen. It was a chorus that fans of this team have become accustomed to over this miserable season.

The Blues came out much hungrier in the second as the Habs were forced to defend, much like the Blues did for most of the first period. Byron prepared a nice chance for Max Pacioretty on the next shift, but that would be mostly it in terms of Montreal attack over the first half of the period. At the other end of the rink, Vladimir Tarasenko hit the post on a play where he really made Drouin look terrible. Finally, with five minutes played in the period, a puck ping-ponged around the neutral zone before landing on Ivan Barbashev’s stick. The young player would break into the zone and use Karl Alzner as a screen to get his shot past Price. On a play where Barbashev was attacking alone, it seems to me that Alzner should have stood his ground on his blueline, but that clearly didn’t happen.

The Blues then received their first man advantage of the night as Logan Shaw was guilty of an offensive zone holding penalty. The Canadiens were able to kill the penalty and really stopped the Blues ability to even gain their zone. The Habs’ penalty kill was essentially as good as their power play was bad earlier. After their solid kill, the Habs got going as Byron and Jakub Jerabek both missed back-to-back chances to even the score. Montreal’s momentum would be quickly halted when Jeff Petry took a tripping call on a dangerous looking Blues chance toward Price’s net. This second Blues man advantage was not successful, though it generated far more offensive zone time than their first. With roughly a minute and a half left to play, Alex Galchenyuk made an incredible pass across the ice to Drouin. As the latter prepared to one-time the pass on net, Bouwmeester made a great defensive play to keep the puck from reaching Drouin, ensuring the score remained 1-0 heading to the third period.

The Blues came out strong in the third and really hemmed the Canadiens in their zone. After a brutal defensive zone giveaway by Jerabek,  Morrow made a great play to halt a Blues 2-on-1. Moments later, Tarasenko hit his second post of the game before Montreal got called for too many men on the ice. On the Blues’ third power play of the game, Price made a nice stop on Tarasenko before Byron and Pacioretty hemmed the Blues in their own zone on an excellent penalty killing shift. After such a great shift and with only 20 seconds remaining to the penalty, Jacob de la Rose was guilty of a soft forecheck on a Blues player at the Montreal blueline. This play was compounded by both Schlemko and Jerabek inexplicably trying to stick-check the Blues forward. Patrik Berglund was all over the rebound on the Tage Thompson rush to make it 2-0. This would be an incredible mountain for the Canadiens with only 14 minutes left to play.

The bigger Blues were content to play along the boards and kill the time on the clock, and frankly, Montreal allowed them to. Pacioretty just missed a pass to Petry that would have given him an empty netter. With less than three minutes to play, Colton Parayko shoved Byron into the boards from behind who smashed the boards hard. It was a play that really didn’t need to happen given the spot on the ice where Byron was chasing the puck. Parayko was given a 5-minute major penalty. With Montreal on the power play for the remainder of the game, and Byron gone for the rest of the game, there wasn’t much left to this one. With Price on the bench for a 6-on-4, Alex Steen sent a puck across the ice for a 3-0 lead. Before the end of the contest and with Price still on the bench, a scramble formed in front of the Blues net with all of Charles Hudon, Brendan Gallagher, and Galchenyuk swinging away at the loose puck. Hudon finally found the puck and bury their only goal on the night.

Observation of the Night

Sure, the Habs played a decent game. However, I would argue that Claude Julien likely needs to sit more veterans to get a message across to his players. It is unacceptable for veterans like Alzner and Schlemko to not execute better gap control at their own zone entry. What’s even more unacceptable to me is the number of forwards on this current team who aren’t willing to make it to the front of the opposition net and pay the price to score a goal. Habs will never be more than a playoff team if they don’t start finding players with skill that are willing to pay the price.

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night

1st Star – Paul Byron

Byron was the best Canadiens on this night as he created ample scoring chances for himself and his teammates that were unfortunately never able to be finished. The oddity here is that Byron finished with no shots on net. Perhaps if he is not injured long-term following the boneheaded Parayko play, he may want to practice hitting the net. Here’s hoping the diminutive forward comes back quickly, the Habs can not afford another important player (now a center no less) to miss significant time at this point.

Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 2 hits, 13:38 T.O.I.

2nd Star – Charles Hudon

The lone scorer for the team on this night, Hudon suddenly finds himself on a nice little productive sequence after being shut out while playing excellent hockey for most of the season. Perhaps having this player get on a bit of a tear could be a good thing for both himself and the team heading into the 2018-2019 season.

Stats: 1 goal, -1, 3 shots, 16:27 T.O.I.

3rd Star – Joe Morrow

After an extended stay in the press box, Morrow came back to the lineup, created a few chances offensively, but most importantly did an excellent job of controlling his defensive gaps and wisely choosing his moments to pinch or to join the attack. If Morrow played like tonight consistently, he’d be assured of a spot on the third pairing moving forward. On this night, he played more than every defenceman other than Petry.

Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 4 shots, 5 hits, 20:47 T.O.I.

Honourable Mention – Nicolas Deslauriers

Deslauriers-Drouin-Galchenyuk was likely the most dangerous line if considering the effort and output from all three players. Drouin was skating hard and Galchenyuk completed a few nice plays as well. All of these efforts appeared to always find Deslauriers stick who missed quite a few chances to get on the board on this night. Interesting how Deslauriers presence on that line really allows the other two to thrive playing their own style.

Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 1 hit, 13:38 T.O.I.