The Montreal Canadiens are nearing what one might call an early season slump. While the Habs controlled the play and deserved the win on Friday night in Minnesota, they were hemmed in by a young, fast, and decisive Colorado Avalanche team. Now, with a consistent decline in their possession numbers punctuated by their first multi-goal loss of 2013-14, Montreal's confidence and momentum would benefit greatly from a victory.
While the shine has come off of Montreal's convincing early season performances, the Habs have maintained some order in the standings due to the fine play of goaltender Carey Price. As Andrew pointed out in a recent game recap,Montreal has swooned in the possession department, but CP31 has been consistently excellent. Price has a 1-2-1 record in four starts against St. Louis, giving up 12 goals in the process for an .886 save percentage. Carey's St. Louis numbers sit in stark contrast with his body of work this year, which includes an impressive .932 save percentage. Price has successfully played himself in the driver's seat for Team Canada, and Montreal will rely on a similar effort this evening.
In order to maintain his sparkling numbers, Price will have to find a way to stop the likes of Blues winger Alex Steen, who has started the season on an absolute tear. Steen has 12 goals in his first 12 games, placing him ahead of the likes of Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, and Phil Kessel, as he leads the league in goals. Of course, Steen isn't the Blues' only weapon, as the deep St. Louis roster also features names like David Backes and T.J. Oshie.
While the Canadiens have dominated the Blues over the years, with a 71-27--22 record in their historical series with the Blues, Montreal has had a tougher time with the current configuration Blues' roster. The Canadiens lost their annual matchup with the Blues in 2010, 2011, and finally 2012, in which the Habs were shutout during the triumphant return of folk hero Jaroslav Halak to the Bell Centre.
Speaking of Halak, the Blues keeper will be familiar to Habs fans as the man who pushed them as close as they've been in a Stanley Cup Final in two decades. Following that run, Halak was dealt to St. Louis for current Canadiens centre Lars Eller. Halak has been solid so far, winning seven of his first ten starts with a 2.35 GAA and .909 save percentage. Against Montreal, Halak has allowed but a single goal in two starts, including the aforementioned shutout victory. While Montreal from has been stingy themselves this year, it's safe to say that a single goal won't the job done tonight.
While their offseason acquisition of three years back will be looking to stop the Habs again, their current offseason acquisitions look to be unavailable for this evening's contest. Veteran forward Brendan Morrow, whose services Montreal was rumoured to be in contention for this summer, has been put on the injured reserve and will not play tonight. Meanwhile, his younger teammate, Magnus Paajarvi, is also questionable. Paajarvi came to St. Louis in a trade the sent David Perron to Edmonton, and the 22-year-old was unable to get on the scoresheet before sustaining in injury in just his fourth game of his season.
Of course, after the Habs decided they could not land Morrow, they settled on another injury prone veteran instead. Daniel Briere is approaching game readiness, but will not play tonight. Joining him on the sidelines are Brandon Prust and Travis Moen, who are also on track but still rehabilitating. Michael Blunden, who had taken the place of the injured attackers in recent games, has been returned to Hamilton. AHL veteran Martin St. Pierre has joined the team, and will look to take advantage of the opportunity that comes with his sixth career stint in the NHL. With David Desharnais mired in the worst stretch of his professional career, St. Pierre's opportunity may come earlier than expected.
As usual, lineups and discussion will be front and centre in our game thread tonight. For news and notes from the opposing perspective, and thoughts on the changes that have made the Blues more successful this season than last, check out St. Louis Game Time.
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