Saturday, 11 February 2017

Game 57: Blues vs. Habs

St. Louis 4, Montreal 2:


- Pacioretty is doing warm-ups, which is a pretty good indicator he'll play tonight (although he could withdrawal even minutes before gametime, if he's too sick to play. If Max goes, then Habs will have the same lineup as they did Thursday, with the same healthy scratches.

- Pacioretty is officially good to play tonight. Out go Desharnais and Flynn.

- Habs pay tribute to a man who had billions of dollars and then got taxpayers of a bankrupt city to hand him over hundreds of millions more for his own arena. Good job guys. Good job.

- Habs start out strong, and then Montoya goes and falls down as Pietrbngelo takes a simple wrist shot from the top of the circle. 1-0.
- Blues getting good looks at Montoya, and more pucks on goal. Blues doing much better job breaking up any semblance of an attack in their zone, Habs defence again playing their usual passive selves.

- Not sure if this has anything to do with Mike Yeo, but the Blues look far more prepped tonight, even though they've had 4 games in the past 6 months. They're freewheeling in the Canadiens zone early in this period.

- Habs first PK survives without surrendering a goal (or shot), but St. Louis spent most of it with excellent command of the puck in the Montreal zone. That's a worrying sign for future Blues man advantages.

- Canadiens looked good for about the first 2 minutes of this game. Then Montoya fell down, and it's been pretty dreadful since. Can't fathom that the Habs are so mentally fragile that they'd break over a fluke play like that, but they've gone into hiding.

- Masterful job by the Blues defence tying up bodies and stripping pucks from Habs forwards. Canadiens can't muster shots on net.

- Weber with a cannon beats Allen clean as a whistle, Pacioretty adds to his point total, but the whole play started after Radulov gave Pietrangelo a crunching hit, generating a deep zone turnover, and seconds later, the Weber goal. Radulov is ridiculously good at just about everything, including bodychecks.

- That Radulov game seemed to change the dynamics of this game, giving Habs a definite boost. Otherwise, the period was pretty much the Blues on both ends of the ice, the Habs are going to have to match St. Louis' close checking ethic from this point forward if they hope to compete. Also wouldn't hurt to crash a few more bodies in and around Allen, who looked suspiciously weak-ish on that Weber goal.


- McCarron gets into a tussle with the marginal Edmundson, which isn't going to help him get a full-time NHL job. I sense McCarron is growing frustrated with his performance and ice-time during this latest call-up, which is a shame since the door has never been this wide open for him. With Gallagher returning, David Desharnais basically is the odd-man out of the Habs lineup, which means that all McCarron has to prove is value over Brian Fynn, which isn't relatively speaking, a huge obstacle.

- Fast transition starting with Allen forwarding the puck all the way to the Habs blue line while the Canadiens were on a change opens the door, Perron with a snapshot that beats Montoya clean between the legs, while Makov and Pateryn are caught flat-footed. 2-1 Blues.

- I had hoped the Canadiens play this period with a bit more checking ferocity, but they seem more mindful of doing puck dumps either out of their zone, or into St. Louis's. Hard to fathom this being a winning approach, already we're seeing it pay off, in the Blues' favour.

- Brilliant shift by Beaulieu, and Radulov again doing incredibly hard work generating puck turnovers in the opposing zone, and I think maybe Pacioretty scored with Beaulieu the assist. In any case, great shift by a Habs defender who's not had the year he, and those who follow this team, had hoped for. But he's having a tremendous game tonight.

- Radulov, we've already said, but bears repeating, does it all - but what he's really good at is winning battles, and churning out positive turnovers. Two of them tonight have led directly to both Habs goals. When will that damn extension contract be finalized?

- Torrey Mitchell really struggling tonight - there's another regular who might be feeling the heat in short order once Gallagher returns and lineup spots become precious. Assuming McCarron sticks, only one of Mitchell, Brian Flynn or David Desharnais can play.

- Pucks haven't been going in much lately for Artturi Lehkonen, but it's not because he's playing soft or poorly. Mainly puck luck, or lack thereof.

- Killer late period goal for Berglund, Pateryn and Markov again playing some overwhelmed defence, not aided much by zone wandering by (zoom!) Andrew Shaw, and the Blues exit the period up 3-2. 

- Shame that late goal, totally preventable if the Habs keep their legs moving, but some (*cough*) were coasting around their own zone, waiting for the clock to drain out. Habs really needed to go to the 3rd tied ono the board against a better playing opponent. Matters are significantly more difficult trailing, as the Blues can now play their game of disciplined zone checking, a huge advantage.


- Habs haven't been bad tonight, quite good actually. But breakdowns in their own zone have helped lead to each of the Blues' three goals tonight, Pateryn and Markov pairing really struggling. 57% CF even strength. Not bad.

- Can't fault the Habs effort so far, but again, as they have so many times this season, the offence is gaining the zone well enough, but they aren't convert many gains into quality shot attempts from good spots. Too many dart shots from long distances, little chance of actual goals being scored.

- Danault line it goes without saying, Habs best tonight, especially creating scoring chances. Radulov doing the gritty work, Pacioretty getting his body into the right spots. 

- Mid period powerplay, lots of shot attempts from Weber and Markov, with Lehtora apparently with a death wish putting his body directly in front of the attempts, but that's about it. Not much Habs traffic in front of Allen, perhaps in fear of getting hit by that Weber shot. Begs the question, what's the point of setting things up that way??

- Blues are stacking the line, Habs barely able to enter the zone. Time is running out.

- 3 minutes left, Habs with little choice now but to roll all the dice and pinch like crazy, as the Blues are doing an excellent trap. The only semblance of offence is coming when Radulov hits the ice. Otherwise, the Canadiens have been totally contained from generating any kind of quality shots on Allen the further this period has progressed.

- Habs going out with a whimper here. 

- Pretty lame attempt tonight. One line showed up. Not gonna be nearly enough to do it.

- Habs just unable to solve the Blues in that 3rd period, who even with just a one goal margin most of the frame, didn't appear to be in any real danger of losing. The NHL today has few margins for error, and tonight, the Habs were undone by early mistakes in their own zone, and after that, they simply couldn't recover. The late 2nd period goal, a direct result from certainly Habs forwards being far too casual in their own zone, stuck the killer blow. A disappointing loss, and another reminder that this Habs team struggles against opponents who are at least above average. This does not bode well for the playoffs, assuming they get there, of course.


It's hard to believe now, but just 7 short months ago, the St. Louis Blues were playing for a berth into the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. The Blues eventually succumbed in six games to the San Jose Sharks, but even in defeat, there was plenty of reason to believe that St. Louis were a very serious team on the brink of realizing a franchise first Stanley Cup Championship.

Fast forward a few months, and everything that was hoped for after an excellent playoff run, has come to naught. The Blues, instead of running away with their Division this season, have found themselves in a dog fight just to qualify for the post season. With 28 wins in 55 games, the Blues hold down the last playoff spot in their Division, but only barely, just a point ahead of the Nashville Predators minus a game in hand. It'll be a dog fight to the finish.

The ongoing story this year has been goaltending. After an impressive run last year, the Blues made a long-term commitment to Jake Allen, signing him to a $17 million, 4-year contract extension. The deal raised a few eyebrows, not only because up until the ink was drying on his new deal, Allen had only put together one bonafide season of 1st-string goaltending, which of course, just so happened as he headed toward free agency. Previously, Allen had strung together solid, albeit unspectacular numbers in his rookie and sophomore seasons, with save percentages hovering around .910, the kind of stuff you'd normally hope for from a backup, not your main starter.

So when Allen hit the ditch this year, putting up the League's worst goaltending stats for 1st stringers, including a save percentage that hovered around a meek .890, the Blues found themselves in plenty of trouble, winning 8 games in November, 6 games in December, and just 5 games in January. Eventually, the Blues simply told Allen to stay home for a few days, so that he could "reset" his game.

That little ploy happened 3 weeks ago. Initially, it didn't seem to work, after Allen took a thumping at the hands of the Minnesota Wild (who are good) and the Winnipeg Jets (who are bad). And the Blues just kept on losing.

This month however, somethings .... changed? After getting drubbed by the Jets, Allen put together a solid outing February 1st in a 5-1 win over the Blues. He then followed up that with a shutout in his next start against the Senators, and on Thursday night, backstopped St. Louis to a 2-1 OT win over the cure-all Leafs, impressively stopping 31 Toronto shots.

So ... maybe, just maybe, the worm has turned for Jake Allen. The Blues certainly hope so, because without dependable goaltending, their odds of making it to the playoffs, never mind competing for a championship, are slim to nada.

Tonight, the Blues takes on the slumping Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. The Habs are coming off a wild razor-thin victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night, two nights after the Canadiens somehow managed to get trashed by the downright horrible Colorado Avalanche. Max Pacioretty, who was dazzling against the 'Yotes, scoring his 26th and 27th goals of the season, is a game-time decision because of the flu. Meanwhile, Paul Stastny, the Blues first line centre, won't play today because of an LBI.

With Stastny out, St. Louis is likely to go with this lineup:



If Pacioretty does play, expect the Habs to go with the same healthy scratches tonight as they did on Thursday, with David Desharnais, Brian Flynn and Nikita Nesterov watching from the press box.

Jake Allen vs. Al Tony Montoya. Puck drops at 7:10, EST.


Let's run it down.

- Max Pacioretty and his entire family have the sniffles. He's a game time decision tonight.

- We already know who's in the front of the line for healthy Habs scratches: David Desharnais, Nikita Nesterov and Brian Flynn.

- Brendan Gallagher won't play tonight, likely won't play tomorrow. So next Saturday it is?

- Speaking of starting, Al Tony Montoya starts tonight for the Habs. Carey Price will play tomorrow night against the Bruins.

- Paul Stastny won't play tonight for the Blues. He's got 35 points this season including 15 goals. Not a guy easily replaced.

- Billionaire Red Wings owner Mike Illitch died yesterday. We wrote about him last November, mainly about all the terrible things he did to the bankrupt city of Detroit and its taxpayers to get himself a new arena at almost zero cost. He will not be missed.

Game preview shortly.

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