Twice over an eight day span the Canadiens convincingly defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. That’s that for the season. The Canadiens won’t see them again unless by some twist of fate they meet in next June’s Cup final.
While the Canadiens have come out of training with a few unresolved problems, it seems like the Blues have more of them. They were exposed by the speed of the Canadiens in their two meetings, which by the way are the only two St. Louis losses this season in regulation time. Generally these things get corrected over time. When they are, the rest of the league will have deal with the Blues. The Canadiens have a season sweep in the books.
Although the Blues hadn’t been particularly sharp, they still started the second period in a 1-1 tie. And then Brendan Gallagher happened. Off the opening faceoff, Gallagher took the puck away from Samuel Blais and launched a 60 foot shot that somehow eluded Jake Allen. Second period puck-drop to goal took six seconds. Second fastest to start a period in the Canadiens 103 year history. And more importantly, with what was clearly a bad goal, whatever first period energy the Blues had seemed to float away. Three and a half minutes later the Canadiens had a 3-1 lead and just past the halfway mark of the period it was 4-1.
The Canadiens’ first and third goals came on their power play. With eight power play goals in 30 advantages the Canadiens are ticking along at 26.7% success rate which is an immense and unpredicted improvement on last season’s league worst 13%. How important can it be? Eight of the Canadiens 31 goals have come on the power play. That’s 26% of the offense.
When he came to the arena, Jordan Weal was aware that he would be a healthy scratch for the second straight game. Then Joel Armia hurt himself in the warmup and Weal was back in the lineup and on the second line with Max Domi and Artturi Lehkonen. It was Weal’s power play goal on a setup from Domi that gave the Canadiens their 1-0 first period lead.
It was a good day for team balance. Members of each of the four lines contributed a goal.
Adequate is the best word to use when describing Carey Price’s performance through early part of the season. Going into his shutout win against Minnesota Thursday his ERA was a 3.33 and his save percentage .896. He didn’t have to work very hard for the shutout against the Wild. Against the Blues he looked truly comfortable for the first time. He was moving authoritatively in the crease and tracking the puck extremely well. Price stopped 32 of 34 shots. Scoring chances in the game favoured the Blues 19-8 and but you have to give the defense some credit. They kept the area in front of Price relatively clear most of the game.
….Both of the kids had a good game. Scoring his first career goal Thursday seemed to take a load off Nick Suzuki’s shoulders. This was his best NHLgame. Nate Thompson set him up for his second career goal. He was on the ice for three of the five Canadiens goals. And, along with his fourth line duties, Claude Julien was confident enough to use him on the power play (4:13) and penalty killing (1:36).
….Jesperi Kotkaniemi also had better command, especially dealing with the physical aspects of the game. His cross ice pass to Jonathan Drouin for the second power play goal was a work of art.
….For Julien this game unfolded perfectly. All four of his lines were operating well and he distributed the ice time almost equally. The most-used forward was Tomas Tatar at 16:40 – the least-used was surprisingly Drouin at 12:45. And once again their was nothing wrong with the way Drouin played.
….Another penalty called against Tomas Tatar, his team-leading sixth in eight games. When you’re picking up minor penalties at that rate it’s often because a player is not moving his feet and finds himself playing catch-up.
….There can be no complaints about the Canadiens offense. They’ve averaged 3.75 goals per game so far which puts them seventh in the league.
….We’re not getting much out of Paul Byron so far. He played with Drouin and Kotkaniemi in this game and for the third straight game failed to produce a single shot attempt. So far this season he has 3 shots on goal and one assist.
….Drouin, Domi and Gallagher share the team scoring lead with eight points in eight games. Gallagher is tied with Armia for most goals with four.
Like the Blues, the Canadiens will complete their two-game season series against Minnesota Sunday evening; the second meeting in four days. Third game in four days for the Canadiens. They’ll be looking for their third win in a row. After Minnesota the Canadiens return home to face San Jose and Toronto on Thursday and Saturday of next week.