After starting the season with three straight games on the road in which they earned an impressive four out of a possible six points, the Habs were set to play three straight at home. The home opener against the Detroit Red Wings, a team they had not lost to in nine games, did not go as planned. Disappointing fans and, I am sure, themselves included, the team was surprisingly flat in a 4-2 loss.
It was not going to get any easier with their next opponents being the defending Stanley Cup champs, the St. Louis Blues. Montreal comes in a team that is going to rely on speed and puck possession. The Blues, while a skilled side with players like Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn, are a big and bruising side. A contrast of styles and based on their flat performance on Thursday night and the way they have played the last couple of seasons against bigger teams like the Blues, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, the outlook wasn’t great. But they proved once again that they should not be a side which is counted out.
In the first three games the Canadiens played they fell behind and fought back into each game to at least earn a point. In doing so they showed character and confidence. Though there is plenty of youth on the team they benefitted from their experience of almost making the playoffs last season. With a year of battling under their belts they come into this season with the knowledge of how to fight uphill against challenges.
The St. Louis Blues were going to be a challenge. Not only a talented team with size, they were 2-0 on the road so far and boast a top four defense of Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Jay Bouwmeester, and Justin Faulk. Impressive! Plus the way goalie Jordan Binnington played last season, you would had to think that goals would be hard to come by.
Head coach Claude Julien tinkered with his line up a little coming off the loss. Brett Kulak was back in and moved up to the second pairing alongside Jeff Petry moving Ben Chiarot down to the third pairing with Christian Folin and Jordan Weal was moved up to the second line with Max Domi and Artturi Lehkonen while rookie Nick Suzuki would take his place on the fourth line with Paul Byron and Nate Thompson. It seemed to work as Kulak played more like he did last season and both Suzuki and Weal contributed.
Right from the get go you got the feeling that Montreal was going to play a good game. Using their speed the bleu-blanc-rouge was rarely pinned in their own end. Quickly the defense used precise first passes to get the transition game going. St. Louis seemed to be a step behind. When there were puck battles they also did well there. Winning more than their share.
Montreal took the lead off a faceoff in the Blues’ end. Phillip Danault won the faceoff, Brendan Gallagher did what he does best and battled then Tomas Tartar showed his skill batting the puck out of the air and over Binnington. Late in the first St. Louis tied the score at 1-1 when a laser shot by Schenn beat Carey Price. Montreal reestablished its lead when Jonathan Drouin hopped off the bench and was caught in full flight by a pass from Ben Chiarot. From the deep slot he whipped a wrist shot through a narrow space Binnington left on his glove side.
The second period did not start off well for Montreal with the Blues’ tying up the game. Samuel Blais persisted on a loose puck deep in the Habs’ end and put a shot on net from a sharp angle. Price did not react quickly enough and it got by him. Was not the netminder’s best moment. Eleven minutes later on a power play, St. Louis took the lead on a nice tic tac toe passing play which ended with Vince Dunn putting the puck in the open side. Once again the Habs’ answered a Blues’ goal with one of their own. This time it was Danault, who showed a quick release off a nifty pass from Tartar.
With three goals in the 3rd period, Montreal earned the win. A wrap around by Lehkonen followed by a goal by Gallagher from in close which seemed to go off his butt and then a diving empty net goal by the always feisty Domi.
A downside to the game was the Montreal powerplay which went 0 for 4. It wasn’t horrible, but they were not able to score. Possession is not a problem though they have to make decisions quicker to cash in with the man advantage.
The revelation for me so far this season has been the play of winger Jonathan Drouin. The talented quick skater had a rough ending to last season with many Habs’ fans blaming his shortcomings for the team not making the playoffs. Expectations are always high for a player from here. Some can handle the pressure while others cannot. The jury is still out as to whether Drouin will succeed here in Montreal, but it looks more likely after his start this season. He has notched at least a point in all of his team’s games so far and played up to his capabilities. The fans are totally on his side as well as the standing ovation he got during his aftergame on ice interview.
The 6-3 win was Montreal’s first regulation win while it was St. Louis’s first regulation loss. Next up for the Habs is another home game against the extremely talented Tampa Lightning on Tuesday night.
-Goals: 1st Period:
12:59 – Montreal: Tomas Tartar assisted by Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher
17:57 – St. Louis: Brayden Schenn assisted by Vladimir Tarasenko and Jayden Schwartz
18:47 – Montreal: Jonathan Drouin assisted by Ben Chiarot and Christian Folin
1:05 – St. Louis: Samuel Blais assisted by Jay Bouwmeester
12:50 – St. Louis: (pp) Vince Dunn assisted by Luke Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko
15:35 – Montreal: Phillip Danault assisted by Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar
7:30 – Montreal: Artturi Lehkonen assisted by Jeff Petry and Jordan Weal
11:56 – Montreal: Brendan Gallagher assisted by Max Domi and Victor Mete
17:32 – Montreal: (en) Max Domi assisted by Jonathan Drouin and Brett Kulak
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 37
St. Louis – 29
-3 Stars: 1) Brendan Gallagher
2) Jonathan Drouin
3) Phillip Danault
-Final Score: Montreal – 6
St. Louis – 3