It had only been two days since the Montreal Canadiens’ home-opener, but that was ample time for fans to dwell on a disappointing performance. A failure to even match the level of what is pegged to be one of the league’s worst teams didn’t bode well for their game versus the St. Louis Blues.
Initial apprehensions began to fade with a good start on Saturday night. The Canadiens had much of the early possession, and came close to scoring on a Shea Weber shot that just trickled wide of the net.
Despite the majority of play being in the offensive zone, few shots were actually being launched at Jordan Binnington in goal.
The Blues had the first great chance to score with a power play opportunity. Montreal’s penalty kill looked a bit shaky in its own end (as it has in the opening games) but they did survive unscathed, and Artturi Lehkonen and Phillip Danault did their part at the top of the zone to keep pressure on the blue-liners.
On the Canadiens’ first man advantage minutes later, they were also unable to capitalize, but they were getting some looks, largely from Nick Suzuki’s work roaming the entire left side of the zone in a bid to create new passing and shooting lanes.
Montreal did maintain some momentum from the power play, and a few minutes later they had their first goal. After an offensive-zone faceoff, both Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar drove toward the net. Gallagher was able to sweep the puck on his backhand toward the slot, where Tatar slapped it off Binnington and in.
Victor Mete came very close to scoring his first NHL goal and extending the lead to two, but he was hooked at the last second as he raced right down to the top of the crease, throwing off his shot. The play resulted in a power play, but left the defenceman with zero goals in his NHL career.
They didn’t really deserve a goal, but after another successful penalty kill, the Blues got a rare chance in Montreal’s end, and Brayden Schenn was able to capitalize with two minutes left in the opening period.
It would have been a shame for Montreal to enter the intermission without a lead to show for their play, so Jonathan Drouin made sure that wasn’t the case. As Tatar stepped off the ice at the end of the next shift, Drouin jumped on and found the puck on his stick. He exploded into the offensive zone, and sent a wrist shot near side for his second goal of the year.
The normally reliable top-line shift at the start of the second period backfired for Claude Julien as Tatar was tagged for a goaltender inteference penalty. The forward didn’t have to spend any time in the box, however, because Samuel Blais came down the other way and backhanded a puck from near the goal line past Carey Price to tie the game.
Twelve minutes later, the Blues had their first lead of the night as Vince Dunn was left all alone to the right of Carey Price on a St. Louis power play, and was able to fire home the cross-ice pass.
Undaunted, Montreal’s top line went back to work on their next shift and found a tying goal. Gallagher won the puck from two Blues in the corner, getting it to Tatar behind the net. He hit a net-charging Phillip Danault in front, and the centre completed the play.
The third period belonged to the Canadiens as they decided they weren’t going to send the crowd home disappointed.
With no special teams to disrupt the flow, Montreal piled up the shot attempts on their opponent. Drouin was drawing oohs and ahhs from the crowd with some nifty stickhandling to keep plays alive, and the team seemed destined for a go-ahead goal.
Jordan Weal missed the best one any player had in the game when he was a bit too strong on a tap-in attempt at the side of the net, sending the puck out the other side with about seven minutes gone. Lehkonen lifted his teammate up on the follow up chance, jamming at the puck in Binnington’s pads on a wraparound, and putting it in for the lead.
Perhaps in a bid to goad Max Domi into taking a penalty, Alex Pietrangelo took what should have been one himself as he caught Domi with a stealthy butt-end that went undetected. A cool head prevailed as the Canadiens forward got to sit on the bench and not in the penalty box at the end of the shift.
He found a bit of retribution soon afterward as he got an assist by sending the puck to Gallagher and watching his teammate skate it backward into the net for a two-goal edge. With the net empty, he had a more satisying result as he kicked the puck by Ryan O’Reilly in the neutral zone and then outraced the Selke Trophy-winner to the puck, diving to bat it into the vacated cage and sealing a 6-3 win for the home side.
It was a great response in the final period of a game that could have easily gone the other way with a less engaged effort, and one that sets the Habs up well for their Tuesday meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
- Nick Suzuki is slowly yet surely getting more comfortable with the NHL game. He looked good in the game versus the Blues, with a second consecutive game over 16 minutes. Five of those came on the power play, where he was noticeable in how much he was moving around in a group of otherwise stationary teammates. At five-on-five he is getting more aware of his surroundings, and starting to make better plays rather than just playing the puck away as quickly as possible. Having perhaps his best game against one of the toughest opponents Montreal has played is good news for him getting up to speed in short order.
- Jonathan Drouin’s play is not only great news for him, but for the entire team. The roster makeup looks completely different with Drouin playing like a legitimate top-six player and not just a talented forward who needs to be heavily sheltered. The most telling sign of the massive change in his game was seen on the power play last night when Shea Weber pinched all the way down to the goal line with Drouin on the point. Last season, the captain would never have strayed so far from the point with Drouin the only man in a defending position on the blue line, always staying handy for a potential change in possession from an ill-advised play. A more confident, more effective Drouin is having effects throughout the lineup, and the outlook for the team may be changing drastically as a result.