On Tuesday night, the Canadiens played two of their flattest periods in a long series of flat play. When they generated some momentum, they killed it with unnecessary penalties. When the Coyotes pressed, only Carey Price stood in the way of a blowout.
Then, Michel Therrien took out his line blender, but this time, he turned his attention to his defence corps instead. The Canadiens responded with one of their best period-and-a-bits of the 2013-14 season, playing well enough to win the game and almost climb out of the hole they dug themselves in the possession department. The Canadiens were dominant, one of the only times we've seen that in the last few weeks. If that period truly was the start of a turn-around, their timing is impeccable.
The St. Louis Blues are among the class of the league, and easiest the most formidable challenge the Habs have been faced with since the Los Angeles Kings ran them over nine days ago. The Blues boast depth at forward and defence, are enjoying a career year from newly-resigned forward Alexander Steen, even if he is cooling off lately. Of course, the Blues depth may be tested this evening, as a few of their forwards are battling injury.
David Backes, the Blues Captain and best forward, has already been ruled out, leaving a hole on the top line alongside Steen and T.J. Oshie. In their last game, Brenden Morrow moved up to take his place, an obvious downgrade over the talented American. Other players affected injury woes also include Vladimir Sobotka and Jaden Schwartz, who are both day-to-day. Either player may be deemed fit enough to play against Montreal, but it is not certain as of this writing.
In the absence of their top-sixers, the Blues pushed Adam Cracknell into the lineup, as well as defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo. Colaiacovo's availability has a lot to do with the Blues extremely strong defence squad, which includes a number of familiar names. Alex Pietrangelo is among the NHL's best young defenders, and a likely member of Team Canada at the upcoming Sochi games. Kevin Shattenkirk is an offensive force and the Blues most dangerous powerplay weapon, while veterans Barrett Jackman and Roman Polak provide support. The Habs have had difficulty producing offense of late, and the Blues look to provide them a stern test.
The final piece of the St. Louis defensive puzzle is goalie Jaroslav Halak, who, as you may be aware, used to play for the Habs. Since his departure, Halak has never lost to the Canadiens, going three for three with a shutout and a .959 save percentage. For a team that hasn't managed a 5-on-5 goal in more than five games worth of time, the Blues will not allow any slack.
Thankfully, the Canadiens goaltender has been pretty dominant himself this season, adding to his renown with a stellar performance against Phoenix. His hot streak should offer the chance to improve his stats against St. Louis, as C3P1 has had some difficulties in his career. In five starts, Price has managed but a single win, allowing 17 goals en route to a .898 save percentage. Recent struggles aside, it's worth noting that many of those goals and losses came with a much less talented team playing in front of him. If there were ever a chance for Price to make his numbers look nicer, it may be tonight.
So, can the Habs hang tight with Blues depth? If Pacioretty keeps putting the puck on net, and Brendan Gallagher can finally break his streak of bad luck, the Habs will have a dangerous centred by David Desharnais. Same goes for the trio of Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec, and Brian Gionta, whose chemistry seems to be growing constantly. The most important consideration is almost certainly on the back-end, where will the Habs will rely on their one period renaissance continuing.
For gameday coverage from the heart of Missouri, not to mention a look at Alex Steen's new contract and a recent podcast (it's worth clicking through just to chuckle at the Leaf-trolling image), head over to St. Louis Game Time.
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- Wednesday Habs Links: Another day, another head injury