Game 11: Montreal Canadiens @ St. Louis Blues
How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In Canada: CITY-TV (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the Blues region: Bally Sports Midwest
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Thursday night was a letdown. After their best performance of the season against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Montreal Canadiens headed to the desert to face an Arizona Coyotes team that had played the night before. But as the night wore on, it was the Canadiens who wilted on the Tempe ice, ceding the momentum and initiative to their opposition during a shambolic second period. The final score may have read 3-2 for the home side, but the Habs were fortunate to be within touching distance throughout the final 40 minutes.
At the risk of editorializing, the crux of the problem lies at the feet of Alex Newhook, Josh Anderson, and Juraj Slafkovský. The line’s struggles have been well documented, but Thursday may have represented a new low. In 6:39 of five-on-five ice time, the trio combined launched a measly solitary puck in anger at Coyotes netminder Connor Ingram. The biggest indicator of the line’s problems might be the statistical gap between Newhook — who was elevated to the first line in the third period — and the other two. With three-and-a-half minutes extra ice, Newhook brought his xGF% on the night to 51.1%. Slafkovsky and Anderson, finishing the game alongside Jake Evans, finished on 27.6% and an astonishing 5.8%, respectively.
For arguably the first time in his coaching tenure, Martin St-Louis needs to act sooner rather than later. However, outside forces may have made his decision easier. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard exited Thursday night’s game early in the second period and did not return. If the Jonquière native is forced out of the lineup for Saturday, then one of Newhook or Anderson is the prime candidate to take his place on the top line. Further, Christian Dvorak is eligible to return from the injured reserve, meaning that Newhook can potentially be shifted from centre back to the wing — whether it’s Dvorak’s or Suzuki’s wing remains to be seen. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Harvey-Pinard can suit up and Dvorak needs a conditioning stint, and the Habs trot out an identical lineup. Just don’t expect Slafkovsky to be sent to Laval for the time being: after November 4, the Rocket do not play again until the 12th.
|47.9% (21st)||Scoring-chances-for %||40.8% (32nd)|
|2.90 (20th)||Goals per game||2.00 (30th)|
|3.10 (16th)||Goals against per game||2.67 (9th)|
|20.0% (15th)||PP%||3.7% (32nd)|
|75.0% (23rd)||PK%||75.0% (24th)|
|2-0-0||Head-to-Head Record (22-23)||0-2-0|
The St. Louis Blues were once the envy of the league, boasting a combination of speed, size, skill, and goaltending that powered them to a Stanley Cup championship. But 2019 was a long time ago, and the Blues are no longer operating in such harmony. Last year, the Blues missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017-18, and did so by some margin, finishing with 81 points — just behind the Vancouver Canucks. Core veterans Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly were traded at the deadline, as was key supporting piece Ivan Barbashev. The 2023-24 campaign is starting out in much the same way as the 2022-23 one left off. Nine games into the season, the Blues sit in the bottom-half of the Central Division with a 4-4-1 record, having scored only 18 goals — third worst in the league.
This wasn’t the outcome that the Blues had in mind when they signed Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas to matching eight-year/$8,125,000 contracts prior to the start of the 2022-23 campaign. The two, in their mid-20s, were supposed to complement an aging but not quite over-the-hill core for the next few years. Now, management must begin the slow process of rebuilding the core around Kyrou and Thomas, and they must do it hamstrung by no-trade clauses to Brayden Schenn (age 32, under contract for five more seasons), Brandon Saad (31, three more seasons), Justin Faulk (31, four more seasons, Torey Krug (32, four more seasons), Colton Parayko (30, six more seasons), and Nick Leddy (32, three more seasons).
For his part, Thomas leads the team in scoring with seven points. Behind him sits Kevin Hayes with five, then Kasperi Kapanen and Jakub Vrana with four each. After two mediocre seasons, goaltender Jordan Binnington has recaptured some of his rookie season mojo, putting up a .924 save percentage so far. However, for the second time in a row, the Canadiens will likely be facing a backup, this time Joel Hofer, with Binnington taking the first match in the back-to-back on Friday night.
Two days ago, the Canadiens were licking their lips at a western road trip that exceeded all expectations. Now, they face the very real prospect of heading home with only a single point to their name. Despite the very stark reality that the Blues are not the perennial contenders that they once were, they are still a team that is capable of beating anyone on a given night. The veterans still have something to give, the next generation still has something to prove, and the team in general still believes that the sun has not yet set.
The Canadiens will have to shake off the dust of the desert and rise to that challenge.