Mon, 19 Aug 2019

Blues open road trip at surprising Canadiens

Sports Xchange
17 Oct 2018, 11:21 GMT+10

The Montreal Canadiens will try and build on their surprisingly strong start to the season when they host the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday at Bell Centre.

The Canadiens, picked by many forecasters to dwell near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, are off to a 3-1-1 start after a 7-3 home win against the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

The Canadiens are in third place in the Atlantic Division.

Canadiens coach Claude Julien said changes to the roster and an acceptance of a new playing style have been responsible for the Canadiens' improved play so far.

"I think it's about the way we work together," Julien told Tuesday. "We chose to play a certain way this year given the things we identified over the summer. It was about speed and execution. At the same time, it takes players who believe and are capable of playing that style and playing it the right way together.

"It's a good start, but there are still a lot of games left and we have to continue to show that playing this style will serve us well right until the end."

Julien said he recognizes that it is a small sample size, but a fast start is critical to positioning a team to contend for a playoff spot. The Canadiens have been riding a more up-tempo game that has emphasized a more aggressive forecheck for their early season success.

"You always hear talk about the season being just like a marathon," he said. "I'm 100 percent in agreement with that. I think you also have to sprint out of the gates to start the year to position yourself well and then the marathon starts after that. It you don't start out with a sprint, it's tough to catch up."

The Canadiens have been led by a diversified attack with Tomas Tatar, Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher each with three goals to lead the team. Jonathan Drouin, who got off to a slow start, now has two goals as does Charles Hudon.

At practice Tuesday, Tatar was on a line with Phillip Danault and Gallagher, Drouin was with Max Domi and Artturi Lehkonen and Byron was with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia. Hudon was on a line with Tomas Plekanec, who scored a goal in his 1,000th NHL game Monday, and Matthew Peca.

The Canadiens placed forward Jacob de la Rose on waivers Monday to make room for Nicholas Deslauriers, who is returning from a facial fracture.

De la Rose, 23, suffered from a cardiac episode Sept. 29, but was cleared to return to practice.

Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, who missed the past two games because of the flu, is expected to start against the Blues (1-2-2), who are starting a three-game road trip.

The Blues could get forward Jaden Schwartz, one of their offensive leaders, back in the lineup against the Canadiens. Schwartz, who has been battling a lower body injury, skated on Tuesday. It's expected he will be a game-time decision.

Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has taken responsibility for the Blues' slow start.

"I'm the one that leads this group and we've won one game," he told the team's website. "It starts with me. I know I need to be better. It's still on me. If we're not winning hockey games, that starts with me."

The Blues, usually a strong defensive team, have given up 20 goals in their first five games.

"It's a disappointing start. We're not going to sugarcoat that or hide from that," Blues coach Mike Yeo told the team website. "It's a little bit of adversity, that's all it is. For us as a group, what's important is we don't let circumstances dictate who we become.

"It's taking us a little longer to get going; we're not quite on top of our game, but we're going to find it. We always do. We've always been a good defensive team. We always will be. We'll get closer and I think this road trip will be really good for us."

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