MONTREAL - The Canadiens get a chance to recharge their batteries next week during the Christmas break, but a few tasks have to be dealt with first, namely playing one of the best teams in the National Hockey League.
The Canadiens face the Blues in St. Louis Thursday night (8 p.m., RDS, TSN Radio 690) for their second and final matchup this season. The Blues won the first meeting 3-2 in a shootout last month at the Bell Centre, a game that featured fine goaltending by Carey Price and former teammate Jaroslav Halak.
The Habs also set an NHL record during that game, blocking 38 shots.
A strong defensive team, the Blues also have the second highest goals-per-game average (3.36) in the NHL. The Habs, who have been struggling to score goals lately, are tied for 20th, averaging 2.47 per game.
The Canadiens will have to be sharp from the moment the puck drops, Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges said after practice Wednesday in Brossard before the team left for St. Louis.
“When you play a team like that they just don’t give you anything,” Gorges said.
“You’re not going to get any freebies. You’re not going to get turnovers in the neutral zone where you can capitalize on a 2-on-1 or a 3-on-2, things like that. They’re going to make you earn everything you get and we’ve got to come in with that mindset of slugging out a 60-, 65-minute effort and play a lot similar.”
The game is the first of two on the road before the Habs’ Christmas break. They play in Nashville on Saturday against the Predators and then they only play again the following Saturday, Dec. 28, in Tampa against the Lightning.
“I think when we go on the road we have a mindset of keeping things simple, playing that hard-style game and, to be honest, that’s when our team plays the best,” Gorges said.
“So we’re going to have to continue that. Obviously these next two games before the Christmas break are huge games, playing two teams that probably are some of the hardest-working teams in the NHL. So we’ve got to be sharp. We’ve got to be ready to put the work boots on.”
The Blues are one of powerhouses in the NHL, coach Michel Therrien said.
“We’re very aware that it’s a big challenge, but we’re going there with a lot of confidence so that’s a good sign,” said Therrien, who also noted the Canadiens have got back to their roots since a 6-0 loss last week to the Los Angeles Kings.
“We’re not allowing a lot of goals,” the coach said. “We want to play solid, defensive hockey. And since then, they’re all tight games.”
Therrien said he’ll probably go with the defensive pairings he switched to during Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes. They featured Andrei Markov back with former defence partner Alexei Emelin, P.K. Subban with Josh Gorges and Raphael Diaz with Douglas Murray. The rationale he offered after that game was that he was looking to have a puck-moving defenceman in each pairing.
Daniel Brière, a natural centre, skated at that position at practice on Wednesday on a line with Travis Moen and Michaël Bournival. Brière played only 4:27 against the Coyotes. Therrien acknowledged last week that the Canadiens expect more from Brière, who they signed last summer to a two-year, $8-million deal.
Asked Wednesday what they want to see more of from Brière, Therrien said: “First of all, Danny is a great person and we want things to happen. And we gave him an opportunity. But I’m sure he wants to produce more, wants to get involved more.
“But on our side we’ve got to make decisions — I’ve got to look at the big picture with the team and make adjustments during games to make sure that we’ve got a chance to win the hockey game. We made those decisions (Tuesday), and adjustments and it was good for the team because we end up making a comeback and won against a team that are really tough to play against. They play really well defensively and we found a way to win this hockey game.”
George Parros isn’t travelling with the team, but skated on his own Wednesday for the first time since suffering a concussion last weekend in a game against the New York Islanders.
“Like I said (Tuesday), he’s feeling really good,” Therrien said. “So that’s a good sign.”
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