Stemming the tide
MONTREAL – The St. Louis Blues rode into town with three wins in four games. Carey Price and the Habs held them at bay for 65 minutes before finally succumbing in their first shootout of the year.
Playing in front of their starter Jaroslav Halak, who returned to Montreal for the second time since being traded to St. Louis, the Blues started the first period aggressively, peppering Price with four quick shots before Alex Steen, left all alone in the slot, one-timed a David Backes pass top-shelf to put the visitors up by one. For Steen, it was a league-leading 13th marker this season.
Then, the Canadiens ran into penalty trouble, with three successive minor penalties called against the home team. However, the Habs’ sixth-ranked penalty kill unit managed to stem the tide and even create a few scoring chances of its own. The strong four-on-five play of Michel Therrien’s troops helped the team get back on its feet.
“We played against a very good team. [The Blues] are quick and strong on the puck,” the Habs’ head coach acknowledged. “We worked hard; I felt that our players gave it their all tonight.”
Not only did his team go a perfect 4-0 with a man down, but the Habs also combined for a season-high 38 blocked shots.
One of the role players who helped the Habs overcome the early-game funk was Martin St-Pierre, a 30 year-old making his first appearance in a Canadiens uniform.
“I think as a line we did well to create some chances, especially in the first period,” related the Ottawa native, whose energetic play was rewarded by his bench boss later in the game. “I was happy to get some time on the powerplay in the third. It’s too bad that Lars [Eller]’s stick broke because it could have been a good scoring chance. But in general, I’m pretty proud of my performance.”
Though St-Pierre failed to find the back of the net in his debut performance, the same did not hold true for rookie Michael Bournival, who potted a second period goal.
“Of course we would have liked to get two points,” said the Shawinigan, QC-born winger, who put the Habs up 2-1 temporarily after Rene Bourque evened the score early in the second frame. “But overall, we played a good game. This gives us something to build on for our next games.”
While Bourque lit the lamp on a simple tap-in with Halak down and out, Bournival had to thread the needle. After taking a pass from linemate Brian Gionta, he skated into the slot and slapped the puck five-hole past the Blues netminder.
“Gionta’s forecheck generated that chance for me. I took a quick look at the net and let a shot go,” described Bournival. The fleet-footed forward now has four goals and three assists in his last seven home games.
Unfortunately for the Canadiens, Chris Stewart tied the game with a deflection goal in the middle of the third period. After conceding the lead, the Habs were unable to break through the Blues’ defensive scheme during the rest of the game.
“In overtime, we had some trouble with our first passes, which made it difficult to break out of the zone with speed,” Tomas Plekanec explained. “We were too spread out. The forwards went into the offensive zone too quickly and didn’t give the defencemen enough time to pass the puck. I think the offence would have been better had we been able to do that.”
The lack of goal support ultimately proved to be the home team’s downfall, as T.J. Oshie became the lone scorer in the shootout, thereby earning the win for St. Louis.
Even though Price was understandably disappointed during his post-game interview, his coach and teammates know their goaltender was a catalyst for the team on Tuesday night. The game’s second star was called upon to stand on his head early and often and ended the night with 30 saves, several of which were of the highlight-reel variety.
“Carey made some huge saves for us. This season, he’s been keeping us in the game every time out,” underlined Bournival.
“Price gave us a chance to win; he played a heck of a game” Therrien added. “We didn’t get a third goal for him, but he should be proud of the way he played. I don’t see many athletes happy about losing a game, and that’s the way it should be.”