The Canadiens’ fans didn’t get the kind of news they wanted before Saturday’s game: while Joel Armia was back, Tyler Toffoli had hand surgery and will be out for eight weeks, adding to the Habs’ ever-growing list of injuries.
The Blues have had their own injury issues, but they were never seriously challenged by the Habs on this night, the bleu blanc et rouge were rarely able to mount any serious attack. The result was yet another loss, extending their losing streak to six games and dropping them deeper yet into the standings cellar.
The First Minute Does Matter
The Blues came out of the gate strongly and set the tone for what we would be seeing for much of the night, as the boys in blue out-hustled and out-muscled the Habs in their own zone. Never mind carrying the puck to an attack, the Habs struggled in trying to just clear the puck to get a line change.
Armia, usually a force on the boards, was pressured on the end boards and instead of dumping the puck out, passed it to Ben Chiarot behind the net, and the veteran defender couldn’t clear it. The puck was shot around the boards, and Vladimir Tarasenko picked it up, feeding it to Pavel Buchnevich, who was parked on the right edge of Jake Allen’s net.
Allen made a pad save on Buchnevich’s one-timer, but gave up the rebound, and Buchnevich made no mistake on his second chance, giving St Louis a 1-0 lead just 1:03 into the game.
However, the Habs didn’t, unlike the early part of the season, get demoralized immediately, and tried to attack, but repeatedly struggled with breaking out of their own zone.
Cole Caufield had a pretty attempt, getting a chance after a nifty toe-drag move in the St. Louis zone, but his shot rang off the post just below the crossbar.
Six and a half minutes in, the Habs finally got a scoring chance as Artturi Lehkonen broke into the Blues’ zone on the left side, with Nick Suzuki and Mike Hoffman trailing. Lehkonen was able to make a clean pass to Suzuki, who forwarded it to Hoffman. Hoffman’s one-timer went wide, though.
Late in the period, Jonathan Drouin gave Armia a gift-wrapped opportunity, passing to the big Finn as he was coming in on Charlie Lindgren, but Armia couldn’t corral the pass and get a shot away.
A 12-6 edge in shots to the Blues, then, although the Habs bettered them 3-2 in terms of high-danger scoring chances.
No Second Wind
The start of the second period looked much like more of the same, with the Habs once again struggling to gain possession for long enough to get the puck out of their own zone.
This time it wasn’t an early goal for the Blues but Cole Caufield gave them the man advantage at 1:51 for slashing Nathan Walker. The Blues’ top-ranked power play got a chance early as Ryan O’Reilly one-timed a puck after it came loose from the boards. Allen was ready, though, and kicked the rebound away. After that, the Canadiens’ penalty kill kept any dangerous shots well away from Allen.
Five minutes later, though, things fell apart as Chiarot got caught in the neutral zone, allowing Dakota Joshua and Logan Brown to break in, with only Chris Wideman back and Jesse Ylonen not quite able to catch up to the play. Brown got the pass to Joshua in front of the net, and Joshua redirected it into the net to double the St. Louis lead.
Michael Pezzetta got called for the game’s second penalty at 14:28 for holding Tarasenko. The first penalty kill unit, led by Lehkonen and Suzuki, was effective once again, breaking up the Blues’ play and clearing the puck. Dominique Ducharme’s makeshift second unit, though, was less so, and the St. Louis offence was able to take advantage with Tarasenko’s pass finding Ivan Barbashev in front of the net.
Three goals to none, then, with the Habs having recorded just eight shots on net by this time.
By the end of the period, the Habs had a few more shots to their credit, but it was still a 11-6 edge for the Blues, and this time the high-danger chances, too, favoured the Blues by 4-3.
Well, At Least They Scored
So, it came down to the final 20 minutes for the final opportunity for the Habs to put a puck behind Lindgren and get on the scoreboard.
It looked bad early once again, and 1:20 into the period Tarasenko fed Barbashev with a dangerous pass once again, but this time the latter could only hit the side of the net.
And it only took another 37 seconds for the Canadiens to finally put the puck in the net, after five consecutive scoreless periods. Laurent Dauphin dug the puck loose behind the net and flipped it to Ryan Poehling in the crease area and Poehling got the puck through the defenders to Alexander Romanov, who was open between the hashmarks. Romanov made no mistake with his wrist shot, depositing the puck just below the crossbar. 3-1, and there was finally some life in the Habs.
At 5:19, Torey Krug was called for interference on Jonathan Drouin, giving Habs their only power play opportunity of the night. Halfway through the man advantage, Armia’s pass found Drouin free in front of an open net, returning the favour from the first period. However, Drouin’s one-timer sailed just over the top of the net.
With Hoffman sitting in the penalty box for a hooking call, Krug sealed the Habs’ fate just past the halfway mark of the final period. Once again, the Canadiens were unable to clear the puck, and this time O’Reilly spotted Krug near the blue line on the opposite side. Krug moved in and drilled his slap shot into the top right corner of Allen’s net.
The shots in the final period were closer at 14-11 for the Blues, but most of the Habs’ shots were well from the outside and of little danger; the high-danger chances were 5-1 in the Blues’ favour for the period.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Alexander Romanov (1g, 0a, 3 shots, +1, 18:38 TOI) has been going from strength to strength as the season has progressed and potted his second goal of the season to break Lindgren’s shutout bid.
Second Star: Artturi Lehkonen (0g, 0a, 1 shot, -1, 16:11 TOI) was on the first line with Suzuki and Hoffman and created multiple scoring chances for the two. Additionally, he played well with Suzuki on the penalty kill to neutralize the St Louis power play while on the ice.
Third Star: Cole Caufield (0g, 0a, 4 shots, +0, 16:04) is still struggling to put the puck in the net, but is improving his two-way playing skills. Playing with Dauphin and Mathieu Perreault, they generated some decent-looking scoring opportunities.
Honourable Mention: Jake Allen (37 shots, 33 saves, .892 save percentage) keeps collecting stars and honourable mentions as his play is keeping the Habs in the games. Unfortunately, the defence and the offence are rarely able to convert that goaltending support into victories.