Fresh off a well deserved two day break, the NHL's youngest squad rolls into Missouri for a date with one of the league's toughest teams this evening.
With a quick opening salvo, the Habs buried the Columbus Blue Jackets , putting up a two-goal lead that the Ohioans couldn't overcome. Tonight, the Canadiens will seek to do the same against a squad that is similar to Columbus in name only.
The Blues are an excellent example of what good drafting can do, as a string of home-run first round picks has created the core of an excellent squad. Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo, T.J. Oshie, and Patrick Berglund were all selected in the first thirty picks of their draft year, while David Backes was picked in the second. Collectively, these players illustrate the importance of solid home-grown talent.
With Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, not to mention the full contingent of former Bulldog forwards, increasingly thrust into more challenging roles, it would seem that the Habs also realize the value of quality, in-house depth. By 11:00 PM ET or so, we'll have found out which team put their talent to better use.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|49.9||Score-Adjusted Fenwick %||53.6|
|1.19||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.26|
Know Your Enemy
Brian Elliott may not be among the league's most elite goaltenders, but playing behind the staunch Blues defence, he's been one of the NHL's very good goalies. When one considers his salary, only $2.5 million this year, he immediately becomes one of the professional hockey's best values in the crease.
Degree of difficulty aside, Elliott's even strength save percentage puts him just below Carey Price, coming in at fourth overall. Facing the Newmarket native would make what should be a tough game even tougher, but mercifully, Ken Hitchcock has elected to start Jake Allen instead.
Allen has been much closer to average than his counterpart, ranking 25th in even strength save percentage out of goaltenders who have played at least 1000 minutes this year. That figure puts Allen closer to the Kari Lehtonens and Ryan Millers of the world, as opposed to the Corey Schneider and Henrik Lundqvist level output that Elliott has offered. It's not quite as fortunate as if Hitchcock had signed up, say, Martin Brodeur for this evening's affair, but suffice it to say that Elliott has been the better of the two primary goaltenders this year.
The absence most harmful to the Blues' interests this evening will be that of stud defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk, who is recovering from abdominal surgery. Only Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester play more at even strength than Shattenkirk, and neither can boast occupying the 60% of his team's powerplay time that Shattenkirk can. Habs fans may recall the hilarious turn of events that led directly to a Dale Weise goal, but most of the time, Shattenkirk is an offensive force from the Blues back-end.
In his place will be former sixth round pick defender Petteri Lindbohm, who has been effective in the limited minutes he's played so far. Coming off his first NHL goal against the Bruins last game, the Habs will seek to keep the Finn from increasing his totals.
Last Time Out
The Montreal Canadiens last game against the St. Louis Blues was presented as a significant challenge - a statement game. The Habs had struggled in facing some of their most challenging early competition, and were coming off a demoralizing loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blues, meanwhile, were seen as the kind of thoroughly talented, well-coordinated squad that could truly test their mettle. In convincing fashion, Montreal came through.
After an early Vladimir Tarasenko goal, the Habs would score the next four, earning a 4-1 victory over their powerful Western conference foe. Perhaps more impressive was the play that propelled them to that victory, as the Canadiens went blow for blow with St. Louis over sixty minutes, keeping near even on possession.
In the very near future, the Habs will be forced to prove that they can hang with the league's best competition over a seven game series, and as long as Carey Price is tending the team's goal, they'll always have a shot. It may well be the Habs skaters, however, that push them over the top.
Before they can do it over seven games, a young and talented Canadiens group must show that do for one. Tonight's game presents an excellent opportunity to do just that.