The Habs were back in action Thursday night as they visited the struggling St. Louis Blues. The Habs had narrowly won the last contest on October 3-2 on a night mostly remembered as Tomas Plekanec’s 1000th NHL game and were looking to sweep the season series.
Carey Price was back in his net after getting Tuesday off and he was opposed by Jordan Binnington. Up front, Claude Julien opted for size against the Blues as Nicolas Deslauriers and Michael Chaput returned to the ice in favour of Matthew Peca and Charles Hudon returning to the press box. Julien did the same on the blue line as Karl Alzner made his return to the lineup after his visit to Laval. Alzner was paired with Kulak on the third pairing while Jordie Benn was promoted to the second pairing next to Jeff Petry.
The players drawing into the lineup were certainly not responsible for the poor execution all over the ice. The recent struggles to score appeared to weigh heavily on far too many Habs on this night. It caused players to take needless risks and to cheat on the offensive side of the puck. The result was a crazy number of odd-man rushes allowed, and it cost the team in the end as they lost 4-1.
The Habs came out strong as Tomas Tatar forechecked hard to create a turnover and give Brendan Gallagher a good shot on net. This was a flash in the pan for the period as the Blues returned and forechecked hard to hem the Max Domi line in the defensive zone until Shea Weber hit David Perron in the face with a high stick for the first power play of the night. The Blues wasted little time making the Habs pay as Vladimir Tarasenko shot for a rebound. Ryan O’Reilly got the first rebound and then the puck found Robert Thomas on the opposite side. Price also made the first save against Thomas, but not the second as the fourth consecutive shot from the Blues gave them a 1-0 lead.
After a good bounce back shift, Jeff Petry was guilty of an awful giveaway to Tarasenko in the neutral zone which sent him alone against Price. Tarasenko outwaited Price but was too far behind the net to score.
The second half of the period started with St. Louis’ goal scorer being pushed into the boards by a back-checking Artturi Lehkonen and he crashed hard. He would make his way to the locker room after the hit but did not return.
Phillip Danault then took an offensive zone holding penalty. The Habs focused and killed this second penalty as the Blues did not really get a scoring chance on the sequence. As the penalty expired, a soft clearing attempt got to Danault who broke in alone but was stopped by Binnington.
Joel Edmundson was then called for hooking Armia in the defensive zone. The first Montreal advantage of the night started with the second unit and was as once again terrible.
After the power play, the Blues were all over the Habs when Jay Bouwmeester hooked Benn for a terrible offensive zone penalty. This bad penalty mattered little as O’Reilly won the faceoff and skated with the puck in the Montreal zone where he found Oskar Sundqvist for a tap-in shorthanded goal to extend the lead to 2-0. The end of the period featured the rest of the inept Habs advantage and Petry hitting the post (not on the power play) with few seconds to play.
The Habs had a strong start to the second period as they spent the better part of the first three minutes in the Blues zone with the best chance coming off the stick of Victor Mete as he unfortunately hit Drouin in the back with the shot. Momentum would swing back as the Blues spent the better part of the next three minutes peppering Price.
Finally, a Weber pinch was not properly covered by Domi and it turned into a 2-on-1 against Jordie Benn. Benn played it poorly and Robby Fabbri found Jay Bouwmeester who beat Price high for a 3-0 lead.
When play resumed, Fabbri soon found himself in the sin bin for a slash on Kenny Agostino. The Habs’ third power play started quite slow, but the second unit was able to gain the zone and Gallagher eventually attempted a pass across that hit a Blues defender and deflected into the net.
Instead of riding newfound momentum, the Habs started the second half of the period with a Benn slashing penalty. Montreal’s penalty kill came up with a big effort as they had the puck for as much of the advantage as the Blues did, so they were able to keep the score 3-1.
After the penalty, the Habs managed to control the pace of play as they won many puck battles and races, but the execution was horrid as they continuously made passes destined to no one allowing the Blues to easily clear their zone. Overall, it was a rather boring end to the period as neither team really generated any quality scoring chances despite each shooting 18 times after two periods.
The Habs came out for the third with much the same effort as they finished the second, but also the same glaring deficiencies in execution. This led to frustration and eventually a Lehkonen hooking penalty after Brett Kulak was beaten to the inside by the Blues forechecker. 30 seconds later, Zack Sanford took a terrible hooking penalty against Benn.
At 4-on-4, Bouwmeester hit the post which created a 2-on-1 where Domi found Victor Mete who was unable to put home his first career goal home despite the golden opportunity.
Back at full strength, Deslauriers went for a solo rush as he broke into the Blues’ zone, shot the puck, picked up his own rebound and missed the net though he was sure he had scored as he looked up to the sky. Just before the midway point of the period, Samuel Blais (a fourth liner) used speed to skate around Petry and found himself alone in front of Price and roofed a shot to make it 4-1. Price was clearly frustrated on the goal since he had spent the majority of the night turning aside 2-on-1’s and partial breaks.
More of the same giveaways started the last ten minutes for the Habs as Kulak coughed up the puck in the neutral zone causing a 3-on-1 for Price to save. After a few more terrible giveaways and St. Louis scoring chances, Bortuzzo tripped Domi for a Montreal power play. On this man advantage, Jonathan Drouin went end-to-end only to be stopped by Binnington, though he was slashed on the play sending Montreal on a 5-on-3.
On that 5-on-3, Weber hit the post before Drouin attempted a pass through two defenders that obviously did not work. Then Kotkaniemi was called for holding after a blatant high stick against Byron was missed. The Habs played aggressively on this penalty in an attempt to create a scoring chance, but they were unsuccessful and instead left Price to make an important number of saves on the sequence. With 1:20 left, Domi and Perron took incidental minors meaning the game would be played out at 4-on-4 and the final seconds ticked down with little fanfare.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Brendan Gallagher
The small winger continues to be an example of effort and relentlessness. On a night where the team was executing poorly, Gallagher’s will was responsible for his goal. A number of other chances created for the Habs were through Gallagher’s relentless efforts as his was the best line (again).
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 6 shots, 1 hit, 15:18 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Nicolas Deslauriers
Deslauriers was a freight train as he was skating like it was last season after a short one-game trip to the press box. If Deslauriers is going to provide this much after visiting the hot dog stand, Julien might want to place him there every second game. In all seriousness, Deslauriers played an important role in the fourth line being the second best on the team for the night as hits, scoring chances, and momentum creation were all present.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 2 shots, 2 hits, 9:10 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Carey Price
Once again, the numbers don’t look nice but absolutely don’t tell the right story here. Price stood tall and stopped a number of odd-man rushes all game long. Weber and Mete had a rough game, Petry and Benn simply don’t work as a pairing because Petry takes chances and Benn can’t cover. Then Petry stops taking chances and then gets exposed in his weaknesses when he tries to play defensively to not make a mistake. A 4-1 score isn’t nice, but this is on the blue line more than the goaltender.
Stats: 26 saves, 30 shots, .867 save %, 4.00 G.A.A., 59:56 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Karl Alzner
This wasn’t a flashy return for Alzner, but really, a quiet game is what this player needs. He played quite well and safely which caused the coaching staff to move him up when it was clear that the Benn-Petry pairing was once again not functional (when will the coaching staff stop trying this?) Alzner played well enough to deserve another audition on Saturday. What may be more interesting is who sits. My money is on Brett Kulak.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 1 shot, 14:58 T.O.I.