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It has been over a month since the Canadiens won a game in regulation, and head coach Martin St. Louis has been experiencing the struggle of a sustained slump for the first time in his NHL coaching career. 1-8-1 in the last ten games and now Matheson, Monahan, and Guhle are all injured, making the challenge all that much tougher. Would the Blues, 6-2-2 in their last ten, be beatable with the current Habs crew?

First, let’s be careful out there

The Habs have been bitten early, and bitten often, in their current slump, and St. Louis was surely keen on not letting the game get out of hand early. Scoring first would be an additional, and maybe even an unexpected bonus, though.

The first real scoring chance came after the first line change, as Montreal sent the third line of Evgenii Dadonov, Jake Evans, and Joel Armia on the ice. David Savard, who had stepped on the ice at the same time, broke in with Armia and rushed toward Jordan Binnington in the St. Louis net. Binnington made the save but gave up a loose puck on the rebound. Alas, Armia, trailing Savard on the play, could not control the puck to get a shot off.

Soon after that, the Blues were attempting to make mincemeat out of the Habs, with a two-minute period of sustained pressure in the Montreal zone. With both Jake Allen and Christian Dvorak having lost their sticks, the Canadiens were struggling to gain control of the puck and clear it. Finally, Dvorak intercepted a pass near the tops of the circles with his skate, and used a World Cup-worth kicking motion to send it out of the zone and relieve the pressure.

Michael Pezzetta was called for tripping at 14:58 on what seemed to be a careless play behind the St. Louis net, as he was following well behind Steven Santini. The Montreal penalty kill seemed to have found some of its previous verve, though, and kept the Blues well to the outside with aggressive play. And, with a dozen seconds remaining, Jake Evans took off on a shorthanded break, but could not solve Binnington.

With less than two minutes remaining, Dvorak and Joel Edmundson broke into the St. Louis zone, and Dvorak tried to deke around Binnington, but was foiled as the Blues goaltender made a sprawling save.

Worse, the Habs were so focused on this attack, that Ivan Barbashev was able to send Brayden Schenn and Brandon Saad into a quick rush, with only Savard back on the defence. Savard slid to block the pass on the two-on-one opportunity, but maybe just a little bit too soon: Schenn waited, and found a gap between Allen and the sliding Savard, getting the puck to Saad. Saad, with an empty side of the net, made no mistake and gave the Blues the first lead in this game.

The shots in the first were 11-9 for the Habs, and the high-danger chances 5-3, but that final sequence of rushes ensure that it was St. Louis ahead 1-0 on the scoreboard.

Second period struggles … but for whom?

The Blues have struggled in the second period for much of the season, but, then again, the Habs have been struggling in every period for the last month or so. But could someone possibly pay a strong period this time?

The third line looked good again, as Dadonov and Evans carried the puck over the St. Louis blue line just before the two-minute mark, and Evans passed it to Armia on the left side. Armia skated circles in the corner, giving a slip to three different defenders, and then lifted the puck over the glove of Binnington at 1:53 to tie up the game.

Some five minutes later, though, Arber Xhekaj made a somewhat soft pass from the right-side boards in the defensive zone that was intercepted by Nikita Alexandrov. He got the puck to Tyler Pitlick — who briefly played for the Canadiens last season — and then to Alexey Toropchenko just inside the blue line. Toropchenko skated in through open ice, and lifted the puck into the top right corner of the net, beating Allen cleanly and restoring a one-goal St. Louis lead.

Only 15 seconds later, with Blues energized and pressing, Johnathan Kovacevic cleared the puck out with a little too much power, and it ended up over the glass. An delay of game penalty, then, and there was nothing for Kovacevic to do but head to the box. The penalty kill was effective this time, too, though, and as the Habs were forechecking in the offensive zone, Josh Anderson stole the puck on the right-side boards. He cut across to the net and in front of Binnington, and tried to flip a backhander over him and into the net. Binnington stopped that, but Justin Faulk was called for holding on the play, resulting in about 30 seconds of four-on-four and then a Montreal power play.

Coming into the game with a league-leading — in futility — power play at 9.6% at home, the Habs were keen to make something happen. The first unit looked good with control and puck movement, doing what they have been trying to do for some time. Cole Caufield’s one-timer was blocked, though, and his second attempt hit a goalpost. Strong style points, but there was an execution gap once again.

Barbashev came to the Habs’ rescue, though, as he high-sticked Kirby Dach less than two minutes after the previous penalty expired. With some blood apparent, the bleu blanc et rouge were granted four minutes of practice on the man advantage.

Once again, it was Nick Suzuki, Caufield and Caufield, with Binnington making three quick saves. Strong shots, but maybe Caufield taking all the shots is becoming predictable? The second unit could not get into a scoring position, but when the first unit returned, Suzuki’s shot hit the post. They maintained control, and this time Suzuki passed to Dach, who made no mistake in snapping the puck past Binnington with 30 seconds remaining in the second penalty. Back to a tie game, then, this time at 2-2.

With 2:44 remaining, Alexandrov hit Jonathan Drouin with a high stick in front of the Canadiens bench, and the Canadiens were back on the man advantage. This time it was Drouin driving the attack, with three shot attempts, two of them saved by Binnington and one blocked by Barbashev.

Robert Thomas led a final-minute rush for the Blues but Allen had no difficulty with it this time, enabling the Habs to escape to the change room with the game still tied at two.

The shot edge was 10-4 for the Canadiens, but notably it was tied at a mere three shots apiece in five-on-five play. And in spite of the three goals scored in the period, there was only one high-danger scoring chance for each team in that middle frame.

Tonight’s secret formula for goals is 2n-1 in each period

As the third period got under way, Binnington cleared a puck from behind his net, but his pass didn’t clear the zone. Instead, the Habs’ forecheckers forced the play to remain in the St Louis zone. Suzuki intercepted a behind-the-net pass and flipped it to Caufield, who skated our from behinf, and flipped a backhand shot from just outside the blue ice into the top corner of the net to give Montreal its first lead in the game at 3-2.

Less than two minutes later the puck was again behind the net, but this time behind Allen. Alexandrov flipped the puck to Calle Rosen, who was near the blue line, and Rosen’s shot hit Chris Wideman at the front of the net. Alexandrov picked up the loose puck and slammed it into the net at 2:29 for his first career NHL goal.

Just 24 seconds after the goal, Pezzetta picked up his second penalty of the game, this time for holding Noel Acciari, to give the Blues a chance to regain the lead. The penalty kill was not working as effectively this time, as the Blues power play moved the puck within the Montreal zone. Edmundson blocked a pass from Justin Faulk to the front of the net, but Pavel Buchnevich snatched the loose puck and put it in the net, making it a 4-3 game in favour of the Blues.

The Habs, clearly with more energy and swagger than they have shown in the last month, were not taking it all sitting down, though. Seven minutes in, Evgenii Dadonov rounded the back of the St Louis net and fed the puck to Evans in front. Binnington made a pad save on the Evans one-timer, but the loose puck bounced to the left side. Armia was parked there, and managed to shoot it — on the second attempt — and lift it over the sprawling Binnington for his third of the season, after nearly 30 games of goal drought.

Canadiens kept up the pressure, and some four minutes after Armia’s marker, Drouin and Anderson broke in on a two-on-one. Drouin undressed Steven Santini along the way, then curved to the front of the net and flipped the puck through Binnington, nearly scoring his first of the season. However, the puck’s progress across the goal line was somewhat leisurely, and Anderson got there before it crossed the line, pushing it in to secure the goal. A moral victory for Drouin, then, even if the goal was credited to Anderson.

That seemed to wake up the Blues to the possibility of actually losing the game to these pesky cellar-dwellers from Montreal, but the remaining eight and a half minutes were not enough to break through the fierce defensive clinic the Canadiens put on in the closing minutes of the final period. So it was a 5-4 regulation win, the first since early December, sealed by the Drouin-Anderson goal midway through the final frame.

The HWN Three Stars

First Star: Joel Armia (2g, 0a, 2 shots, 17:36 TOI) is finding his swagger again, after breaking his scoring drought in the previous period. A team-high two high-danger chances, and he potted both of them. This is the kind of secondary scoring that the Habs have been missing for the past month and then some.

Second Star: Jonathan Drouin (0g, 1a, 4 shots, 12:49 TOI) is continuing his recent strong play, and put the puck on the goal line for Anderson to tap in the winning goal. On the power play, he provides another option beyond Suzuki and Caufield, making the power play that much less predictable.

Third Star: Jake Evans (0g, 2a, 2 shots, 19:09 TOI) is still, like Drouin, missing his first goal of the season, but he worked well with Dadonov and Armia again, and played well on the over three minutes of disadvantage that he was on the ice for.

Honourable Mention: Kirby Dach (1g, 0a, 1 shot, 19:37 TOI) continues to complement Suzuki and Caufield. Shooting more will make the line — and particularly the power play — less predictable, and will result in more goals for Dach as well.