The Canadiens welcomed the defending Stanley Cup Champions to the Bell Centre on Saturday night. The Habs made some tweaks to the lineup; their forward lines were Tatar-Danault-Gallagher, Lehkonen-Domi-Weal, Drouin-Kotkaniemi-Armia, and Byron-Thompson-Suzuki. There were also some changes on defence as Mete-Weber, Kulak-Petry, and Chiarot-Folin were the pairings. Carey Price made his fourth start of the season in net.
The Habs showed flashes of their great speed and kept the game tied through two periods. In the third, their speed was too much for St. Louis and Montreal polished off a 6-3 victory in front of the home fans.
The Habs were off to a quick start and just thirty seconds in, Jordan Weal tipped a Shea Weber point shot that just trickled wide of the net. The Blues came back the other way, and Ben Chiarot was called for high-sticking. The Canadiens killed off the penalty quite effectively and had a couple of shorthanded chances of their own.
Shortly after, Gallagher had a great chance in the slot but shot it just wide. The Habs continued to showcase their speed and were sent to the man advantage after Paul Byron took a stick to the face. Nick Suzuki had several chances playing on the first unit but the Habs could not find the net
Montreal continued their strong momentum and they were finally rewarded with seven minutes to go in the period. Off of the faceoff, Brendan Gallagher directed the loose puck over to Tomas Tatar, and he tipped it home to give the Habs the lead.
A little later, on a great rush of speed, Victor Mete got in alone behind the Blues’ defence but was hooked, sending the Habs to another power play. This power play was not effective and the Canadiens could not organize any zone entries.
Before the end of the period, a Domi pass was intercepted at centre ice and taken back the other way by St. Louis. A pass came in the high slot to Brayden Schenn and he fired it just under the crossbar to tie the game.
The tie was short-lived as Jonathan Drouin took a stretch pass in stride at the blueline. He sped into the zone and fired a shot short-side to regain the lead. The Habs skated to the dressing room with a 2-1 lead, after a fast-paced effort in the first.
The Blues were able to respond quickly to start the second. On a delayed penalty, Sammy Blais got his own rebound and put it over Price’s shoulder to tie the game. St. Louis got some life after the goal but were called for interference when Blais held up Byron going for a loose puck.
The Habs were unable to score on the following power play but it did look better than the previous one. Nick Suzuki made a great pass across the ice to Domi, whose stick obliterated when attempting the one-timer, and the puck slid behind the net. Following the man advantage, the Canadiens started to get some momentum back.
Seven minutes in, the Blues were sent back to the box when Jay Bouwmeester was called for interference on Gallagher. The Habs had some shots on net but could not get any traffic in front of the Blues’ net, sending them to 0/4 on the power play.
With eight minutes to go, Artturi Lehkonen was called for interference. The Habs killed the first minute. Unfortunately, the Blues were able to strike, as Vince Dunn caught a cross-ice pass and fired it home to give St. Louis their first lead.
With just over four minutes to go, the Habs top line gained the zone. Tatar picked up a Gallagher pass behind the net and sent a perfect feed out front to Phillip Danault who wired it to the back of the net. The goal brought some much-needed life back into the building, and the crowd was back in it as the score was knotted up at three apiece after 40 minutes.
Early in the third, the line of Tatar, Danault, and Gallagher had another very good shift with numerous chances including a shot from Gallagher that struck iron. The second and third lines followed suit with good shifts of their own, building momentum for the Habs.
Eight and a half minutes into the period, Jeff Petry made a perfect pass to a wide-open Jordan Weal. Weal somehow missed the wide-open cage, sliding the puck through the crease. Fortunately, the Habs regained possession and Lehkonen jammed a wraparound passed Binnington for a 4-3 lead.
Four minutes later, Domi gained speed through the neutral zone, Gallagher drove hard to the net and tipped the puck and it managed to squeak through Binnington’s legs, giving the Habs some much-needed insurance. There was some thought that St. Louis might challenge for goalie interference on the play but they opted not to.
With five minutes to go, Joel Armia picked up a pass from Jesperi Kotkaniemi at centre and was in alone. While coming in on the breakaway he was tripped, resulting in a penalty shot. He tried to go glove hand on the shot, but Binnington tracked it all the way, keeping it at 5-3.
For the remaining time, the Habs had a great defensive effort. They did not give the Blues any chances. With two minutes left, Domi had a great individual effort and dove to put the puck in the empty net and ice the game for the Habs.
The final buzzer rang with the Canadiens victorious 6-3. In their toughest test of the season to date, they showed that their speed can beat anybody when they are playing well. They will have another big test on Tuesday when the Tampa Bay Lightning roll into town.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher seemed to be effective every shift tonight; his line was by far the best for the Habs in this game. He made a strong forecheck on the third goal and had a great drive to the net on his goal to give the Canadiens some much-needed breathing space in the third.
Stats: 1G, 2A, +2, 7 SOG, 18:09 TOI
Second Star – Tomas Tatar
Along with Gallagher and Danault, Tatar helped make the first line the Habs’ best in this game. He got Montreal on the board in the first period and his hustle led to the tying goal being scored. After being called out by many for poorly timed penalties in the previous games, he bounced back in a big way tonight.
Stats: 1G, 1A, +2, 2 SOG, 18:18 TOI
Third Star – Jonathan Drouin
Drouin has played his best hockey in a Habs uniform to start this season. He looks like a completely different player from the end of last season. He was skating hard in the offensive zone and was playing well defensively. He showed a great burst of speed when scoring his key goal in the second period.
Stats: 1G, 1A, +1, 4 SOG, 14:02 TOI
Honourable Mention- Victor Mete
Mete showed flashes of his great speed tonight in both zones. He was effective defensively and led several rushes on offence. It is hard to believe that Mete has yet to score a goal in the NHL, but if he keeps up his play, there should be many goals coming in his future.
Stats: 1A, 1 SOG, 15:54 TOI