You wouldn’t have known that the St. Louis Blues were one of the top teams in the NHL while the Montreal Canadiens sit well outside a playoff spot by watching the start to last night’s game. In the first match since the All-Star break for both teams, the visiting Habs were zipping all over the ice, playing the first period nearly exclusively in the Blues’ end.
A good shift from Jonathan Drouin’s line in the opening minutes came close to opening the scoring, with the centreman and Nicolas Deslauriers putting a few pucks on goal but none able to beat Carter Hutton.
With little to do on defence, the Habs’ blue-liners were able to assert themselves on offence, with Victor Mete, Jakub Jerabek, Jeff Petry, and Joe Morrow (back in the lineup after a lengthy stretch in the press box) jumping up in the zone to maintain possession.
Each line had its chances to score, while Drouin drew a penalty to give the team even more of an advantage, but the Habs were unable to capitalize on their opportunities.
The Blues finally got their first shot on goal with about three minutes left in the opening frame, and got a loud Bronx cheer from the fans. It worked as a kind of twisted home-ice advantage to motivate the team, and they proceeded to pepper the Habs net with pucks for the remainder of the period, registering eight by the time the horn sounded.
The Canadiens regained their footing coming out of the intermission, getting back to the offensive game that had been extinguished by the Blues’ late-period flurry. Their greatest chance to open the scoring came with Paul Byron getting the puck and finding Max Pacioretty in front of the net with a pass, but the captain’s shot went just wide of the net.
The ample zone time with no reward finally caught up with the Habs. The puck went the other way on the stick of Ivan Barbashev, and while Karl Alzner attempted to keep himself between his man and the net, that led to him acting as a screen on Barbashev’s shot, and the Blues’ sophomore was able to beat Carey Price to put his team on the board.
The Canadiens did respond well to the goal, going right back to work on offence. Charles Hudon once again showed off his puck-battling skills, having been very good in one-on-one (or even one-on-three) battles this season despite his smaller stature. His efforts helped to set up some opportunities for Byron and David Schlemko, but neither was able to hit the back of the net.
A fourth-line shift in the St. Louis end went awry when Logan Shaw got called for a hooking penalty, allowing the Blues to escape the pressure. Shortly after that opportunity, the home side drew another with Petry going off for tripping, but the penalty kill came through for the Habs on both occasions to keep them within striking distance heading into the third period.
They weren’t so lucky while killing a too-many-men penalty partway through the final frame. Patrik Berglund batted a puck out of mid-air right in front of the net as the Habs’ defensive coverage was scrambling to find its positioning.
Claude Julien responded with the Drouin line, this time with Brendan Gallagher taking Deslauriers’ place, and they nearly scored on a rush up ice that went right to the goalmouth. Things got heated with Gallagher being the one to crash the crease, but no penalties were doled out on the play.
With score effects taking over, the Canadiens got more zone time over the rest of the period, but most of their chances were easy stops for Hutton with little creativity involved to get the netminder moving and fighting through traffic.
Things took a turn for the worse with time winding down as Byron was shoved into the end boards by Colton Parayko. He stayed down on the ice for several minutes before skating off the ice clamping his left arm to his body.
To add insult to injury, with the Habs back out on the five-minute major awarded for the infraction, the Blues immediately jumped on a wayward pass in the neutral zone and potted a third goal into a vacated net.
Still on the power play, the Canadiens did manage to at least spoil Hutton’s shutout bid when Hudon scored his seventh goal of the season, and third in the last two games.
It was as close as the Habs were able to come, falling by a 3-1 score.
The Canadiens will now travel to Raleigh to take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. They will hope to have an offensive performance closer to the five-goal outburst they enjoyed agains the ‘Canes on January 25.