The Montreal Canadiens and St. Louis Blues faced off last night in a game that featured four players playing against their former teams.
On the Habs side, you had Lars Eller, once a top prospect in a very deep Blues development system and on the other end of the ice you have the man he was trade for, Jaroslav Halak.
Halak faced off against his former goaltending partner in Carey Price while former Habs forward Matt D'Agostini rounded things out in a Blues uniform.
Despite all of the storylines, it was far from being a spectacular game.
The Blues, who played the night before in Columbus, looked fast, focused and on their game while Montreal struggled to find cohesion, looking distracted and disorganized.
The result was a game that was largely dominated by St. Louis with a handful of strong sequences from Montreal.
The Canadiens got on the board first when Jeff Halpern deflected his 11th of the season past Halak off an Alexandre Picard pass. But the Blues took control of the game after that with David Backes tying it at one 6:29 later.
Halak was solid for the Blues but wasn't really tested,and his teammates ultimately did an excellent job of limiting the Canadiens shots to the outside.
Carey Price, who continues to be the MVP for Montreal, was the only reason this game wasn't over early, making several spectacular saves to keep it a one goal game.
Despite Price's best efforts the Blues would add a second period marker from Andy McDonald and two more in the final two minutes of the game—one into an empty net—to clinch the victory.
Former Habs Halak and D'Agostini got the victory with D'Agostini, who played an excellent game, scoring the insurance marker on his 14th of the season.
And with that, the Habs five game winning streak is dead. Long live the streak!
Final score: Blues 4 - Habs 1
Habs scorers: Jeff Halpern (11)
Blues scorers: David Backes (24), Andy McDonald (17), Matt D'Agostini (14) T.J. Oshie (8)
Three stars: 1. Jaroslav Halak, 2. Andy McDonald, 3. Matt D'Agostini
1. The Habs heads were just not in the game.
Only two days after the "hit heard around the world", the Montreal Canadiens were back on the ice to take up arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.
Shakespeare reference aside, the Canadiens have had a hell of an emotional last couple of days and it showed in their play.
From the start of the game Montreal looked lost, disorganized and ridiculously flat. St. Louis was the team playing back-to-back games but it was the Habs who looked tired.
Montreal had a few sequences here and there where they played more like the team that had previously won five straight games, but were a step behind the play far too often last night.
So like driving a car for the first time after you get into an accident, Montreal was just trying to get back on the horse. It will pass and the Habs will find their fire again. Just give them a few days.
2. Price was in MVP form.
Like a broken record that keeps skipping back to the same part of the song, Price was once again the difference maker last night. And while his team didn't come out of the game with a victory Price's strong play gave them a chance to win despite their lethargy.
About 12 minutes in with the Blues on the power play and applying a ton of pressure in the Canadiens zone, Price made a spectacular left-to-right save on a one-timer from the high-slot. While Price is big and plays an incredibly sound positional game, it is always amazing to see how quickly he makes his lateral displacements, especially considering his 6'3", 219 lbs frame.
With St. Louis blitzing the Habs zone for long stretches of the game, Montreal's defenders were scrambling and Price seemed like the only player who knew what was going on.
It is during games like this that we start to see why Price's name is starting to come up in more and more MVP conversations.
The Habs go as Price goes, and he once again kept them in the game when they were clearly struggling to keep up.
3. St. Louis really is an up and coming team.
With players like T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Patrick Berglund, Chris Stewart, David Perron (who is out with a concussion), Jaroslav Halak, Alex Pietrangelo and Matt D'Agostini, among others, the Blues are truly an organization on the rise.
The level of speed, skill and size in their lineup is beyond impressive and with a few years of experience and perhaps the addition of some key veterans, the Blues should become a dangerous NHL team in the not-so-distant future.
While there is no question that the Habs didn't bring their "A" game to the table, you have to give full marks to the Blues who used their speed and skill to cycle the puck. Montreal struggled to get the play out of their zone several times during the course of the game and, again, if it wasn't for Price the game would have been over early.
4. Benoit Pouliot is not a top-six player.
Pouliot, who has been having a good season while playing in the relative obscurity of the Habs third line, got another golden opportunity to show that he belongs in the top-six.
I know it's only one game but so far he didn't do a very good job.
Whereas Pouliot has looked both mentally and physically engaged while playing on the David Desharnais line, last night he looked completely lost.
Not only was he unable to get it done in the offensive zone but Pouliot also struggled to do the job in the defensive zone, cleanly losing a faceoff that led to the first goal—not that it's his job to take faceoffs—and making a defensive zone turnover that led to the Blues second marker.
It has never been clearer to me that Pouliot is simply not a top-six forward, and last night he seemed to whiter under the weight of expectation.
So I think it is time for the Habs to admit that Pouliot is a bottom six player and a pretty decent one at that. So just put him back on the Desharnais line and let him do his thing and the team will likely be better off.
5. The Max Pacioretty injury leaves a huge hole in the lineup.
The injury to Pacioretty and his indefinite absence from the lineup is going to be a big problem for the Habs offense.
Forget all the discussion about the hit itself, its consequences and the leagues reaction to it. I'm talking about the top-six vacuum that has opened up with his absence from the lineup.
Patches has been one of the Habs hottest players over the last 20 games, with 15 points (11G, 4A) over that span. More importantly, Pacioretty play had revived the Habs second line, with Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez.
The Habs first line is already struggling to get things going with Jeff Halpern, a bottom-six center, playing as a top-line winger. So with the Habs paper thin depth in the top-six, Montreal absolutely needs more out of Tomas Plekanec, Michael Cammalleri, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta.
It's great that the Lars Eller line has been getting it done lately, but the Habs need their veteran offensive players to start getting it done on a regular basis.
Those four players are the ones who must carry the load for Montreal in order to keep this party going otherwise things could get ugly in a hurry.
Standings and Next Game
The loss snaps a five-game winning streak for Montreal who remain in sixth overall in the East with 81 points in the standings. With Boston falling 3-2 in overtime to the Sabres, Montreal missed a prime opportunity to inch closer to them.
Montreal is three points back of Tampa and five back of Pittsburgh who has one game in hand.
The Habs continue to have a comfortable buffer on the seventh place team, which is now the surging Buffalo Sabres who have 74 points and one game in hand.
The Habs will now return to Montreal where they have a Saturday matinee against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Bell Centre.
I'm headed to New York City for the weekend so I won't be doing my pre and post game pieces, but I'll still be updating my news links on a daily basis.
Have a great weekend folks!
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/
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