The first minute of last night’s game between the Montreal Canadiens and St. Louis Blues had a tentative feel with both clubs trying to ease into the game safely. Montreal’s first sustained possession came with a scoring opportunity, when Andrew Shaw tipped a Jeff Petry shot, but the deflection missed the net, ending the rush for the Habs.
Nearing the 15-minute mark, Carey Price was forced to make a sharp save on Vladimir Sobotka when the Blues’ forward created a turnover and quickly snapped a wrist shot on an unsuspecting Price.
Mere seconds later, St. Louis did manage to open the scoring, when Brayden Schenn fired a wrist shot into Montreal’s net. The play initially began with Jaden Schwartz skating into Canadiens territory and completing a shifty drop pass to Schenn, who launched the puck at Price, who made the save.
The rebound slipped behind the net, where Schwartz collected it back, swept around the net and located a wide open Schenn, who made no mistake on his second attempt. On the play, Tomas Plekanec chased Schwartz around the net, only to have Jeff Petry also collapse behind Price, which created the opening for Schenn.
After the Blues’ goal, Montreal turned up the heat and got more controlled zone entries, however were continuously stymied by St. Louis’ defence, which either blocked shots or forced shooters to miss the net. The Blues looked very calm despite the Habs’ increased urgency.
Nearing eight minutes of play, Tomas Plekanec was called for slashing, a pretty typical call for the type of slash refs have tried hard to eliminate from the game this year. A positive sign for the Habs’ depth players, Jacob de la Rose and Nicolas Deslauriers looked great together on the penalty kill.
Shortly after Plekanec returned to the ice, Robert Bortuzzo caught the Czech forward with his head down shortly after a play was blown dead for offside and upended Plekanec, revenge perhaps for a hit Bortuzzo suffered at the hands of the Canadiens’ veteran center.
Jake Allen had to think fast when a Jacob de la Rose shot went high, bounced off the glass and flew through the netminder’s crease. Despite having to pounce on a loose puck, the chance still didn’t register as the Canadiens’ first shot, which would happen more than 12 minutes into the game.
Paul Byron had a nice chance to score on the power play with Alex Steen in the penalty box, but Jake Allen sprung to action to rob the Habs’ hot hand. On the same power play, Montreal nearly allowed a shorthanded goal when a long distance pass connected with floating Jaden Schwartz, who hung behind all Canadiens players, leading to a breakaway chance. Carey Price, however, stumped Schwartz, keeping the game within one goal.
With a bit more than four minutes remaining, Jordie Benn tied the game with a blast from the point. Tomas Plekanec tossed the puck along the boards to Benn, who took one stride in from the blue line before hefting a massive slapper past Allen, who was screened by the pesty Daniel Carr.
Jordie Benn with a rocket for his fourth goal of the year! pic.twitter.com/dPejTxIasP— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 6, 2017
The Canadiens had a very slow start to the game, actually waking up when getting scored on, showing some fight rather than crumbling in the face of adversity.
The second period started with Montreal in control of the puck but not for long. After an icing call against Montreal, the Habs’ tired forwards got stuck on the ice and St. Louis would capitalize. Dimitrij Jaskin set up Scottie Upshall, who surprised everyone, including Carey Price. Upshall’s wrister put the Blues back ahead 2-1.
Unlike the first period goal, however, this one was met with a complete lapse in concentration by the Habs. Just seven seconds after Upshall’s goal, Brayden Schenn would score his second of the game, thus doubling the Blues’ lead.
Immediately after the faceoff, Schenn was not picked up by a Canadiens’ defenceman, streaked into the zone unchallenged and fired a shot over Price’s glove hand and into the net.
To go along with the familiar sting of multiple goals in short sequence, Montreal faded for a significant part of the second period, failing to threaten St. Louis’ lead. The only line consistently being noticed for good puck movement and offence was the unit of Max Pacioretty Phillip Danault and Andrew Shaw, who had several good chances.
The Habs played panicked hockey in their own zone, trying to clear the puck out quickly rather than getting the puck out intelligently, and were often hemmed into their end or at the very least saw their breakouts interrupted by lazy passing or chipping off the glass.
As if to highlight the Canadiens’ ineffective offence, Jake Allen lost a skate blade, had to be replaced by Carter Hutton for over three minutes while his equipment was mended. Hutton entered the game cold and could have been the weakness Montreal needed to exploit to change the game’s momentum. Instead, the Habs failed to send a single shot on Hutton, whose night ended without any real work.
After Montreal successfully killed a penalty to Byron Froese for slashing, they brought the game’s score back to within one goal thanks to a possibly magical shot by Shea Weber. After a faceoff win, Weber quickly released the puck back at Allen’s net, only the puck was heading wide past the left post. As Allen slid to track the puck, it mysteriously curled inwards by several inches, changing its trajectory, ultimately landing in the net.
Shea Weber curves the puck into the net, Habs now within a goal pic.twitter.com/hhOJDiWtOm— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 6, 2017
The goal was Shea Weber’s 500th NHL point, coming in his 100th game in a Canadiens’ uniform. The score came with three minutes left in the second period and gave the Habs the sign of life they needed.
The final frame’s first major action came in the form of Carey Price making back to back sensational saves going post to post and back again, tracking the puck and covering his net with what looks like unnatural ease.
Shea Weber would score again, tying the game up at three on a similar if less magical goal. No curving was involved in this one, but Weber once again blasted a faceoff win into the Blues’ net. Andrew Shaw won the draw cleanly, and Weber finished the play by doing what he does best.
Instead of the curveball, Weber goes with the fastball and ties the game! pic.twitter.com/salYPMdo40— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 6, 2017
Six minutes later, however, Brayden Schenn would complete the hat trick, scoring the game-winning goal on a rather lucky bounce. Schenn and Schwartz headed to the net together, and Schenn sent the puck towards the net, Schwartz and a swarm of Canadiens’ defencemen, having the puck finish up in Price’s net.
The Habs were never able to get the game tied back up, suffering their first loss in six games after being on the wrong side of a 4-3 decision. Tuesday night’s game, however, was a sign this team can hang with a serious club like the Blues. The Canadiens fell behind twice and fought back twice before ultimately losing the match.
It wasn’t a perfect showing by any definition, but the fear that Montreal could collapse after playing such a strong team was proven a needless one.