I’m sure the coaches were tempted to shake up the roster but Claude Julien opted for two small adjustments. They turned out to be major difference-makers.
On defence, Julien brought Brett Kulak out of the press box and re-united him with Jeff Petry and moved Ben Chiarot down to the third pairing. He also moved Jordan Weal to the Max Domi line and dropped 20 year old rookie Nick Suzuki to the fourth line. Minimalist adjustments that turned Thursday’s home ice debacle into a dominant 6-3 win over the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues.
In hockey little things can mean a lot.
I thought Weal played well with Domi and Lehkonen and Suzuki seemed to regain some confidence with the reduced pressure of playing on a fourth line.
But the difference maker was on defense. Not only did Kulak/Petry return to their form of last season but we saw a calmer and more thoughtful Chiarot on the third pairing. As a result, the puck started moving out of the Canadiens end with authority.
Forty-eight hours after being embarrassed 12-4 in high danger scoring chances vs. Detroit, in the same stastistic the Canadiens owned the Blues 17-4 – including 9-1 in the breakaway third period.
Julien seemed to place a lot of the blame on the early struggles of the Danault line on left wing Tomas Tatar to the point where Tatar found himself replaced by Artturi Lehkonen at one point. Like so many other pieces in the Canadiens puzzle, Tatar got it back together against the Blues and so did the line. Brendan Gallagher was clearly the game’s first star with a goal and two assists. Seven of the twelve shots he took were on goal. Linemates Danault and Tatar also scored goals.
STILL ON A ROLL
Jonathan Drouin recorded a goal and an assist. In the first period I thought we were seeing the old Drouin when he was slow getting back on the Blues rush that led to the their first goal but on the same shift less than a minute later Chiarot sent him in to score the Canadiens second goal with a terrific wrist shot. He was flying the rest of the night. So far, so good with number 92. With at least a point in each of the first five games he now leads the team with six points.
….One of the early season Canadiens issues was the fact that they didn’t give themselves the luxury of playing with a lead. Against the Blues they were behind only once; 2:45 in the second period. It took that long for Tomas Tatar to set up Phillip Danault for what was the first of four straight Canadiens goals.
….Although they didn’t score, the Canadiens looked good on three of their four power play opportunities. Not the same with the penalty kill. In the five games to date the Canadiens have been shorthanded 17 times and given up 6 goals – a frightful kill rate of 64.7%.
….Didn’t see a lot of Carey Price in this game which, when it comes to goaltenders, is a good thing. He faced only29 shots. He was slow covering a rebound on the Blues second goal but the rest of his game was good.
….From the post game stat sheet – Gallagher led with 7 shots on goal. Folin with five hits. Domi led by winning seven of ten faceoffs. As a team the Canadiens were 43% in faceoffs. Jeff Petry is taking over as the Canadiens go-to defenseman. He led with 24:23 in ice time. Interesting to note that Jesperi Kotkaniemi recorded the least ice-time – 11:31,
The Canadiens practice next on Monday at the Bell Centre when the early season team picture will be taken. Then it’s Tampa Bay Tuesday night and Minnesota Thursday before they hit the road for back-to-back afternoon games in St. Louis and Minnesota next Saturday and Sunday.