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The next test

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
BROSSARD – After being humbled by a streaking Pittsburgh Penguins squad, things aren’t going to get any easier for Michel Therrien’s troops come Thursday night at the Bell Centre.


That’s when the Canadiens will go up against a St. Louis Blues contingent that has rattled off eight wins in their last 10 outings, and currently sits seventh in the league with 25 points through 18 games during the 2014-15 campaign.

“I’m used to playing against them over the years. They’re a team that skates a lot, and they have a lot of talent in that group. They have excellent defensemen. They’re a complete team, so we’ll have to be ready. It’s a big test for us. I think the fact that we lost against Pittsburgh will motivate us even more. I think we’ll be set for it,” offered Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, who has registered two goals and three points in eight career appearances against St. Louis. “When you get blanked like St. Louis did [against Boston on Tuesday], you rebound.  That’s the way things work in this league. I’m expecting a very competitive game.”

In order to give themselves a fighting chance and get back in the win column, the Habs know full well that playing error-free hockey against St. Louis is a must, which certainly wasn’t the case when Sidney Crosby & Co. were in town on Tuesday.

“After winning six straight games, I think the Pittsburgh game was a reality check. We didn’t start the game off poorly, but a few mental errors cost us,” stressed Parenteau. “We made a few mental mistakes and missed out on some details. We didn’t skate as well as we have in other games. The forecheck was the key to our success in the games that we’d won. We were lacking in those departments. We need to get back to that for the Blues.”

Going up against a team boasting snipers like Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen, Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz up front, and rugged rearguards like Barret Jackman, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Ian Cole on the back end, mandates going into the tilt with that type of mentality.

“St. Louis has been a solid, structured team for a number of years now. We’re definitely not going to have to get frustrated and stay within our system and stay patient because once we start opening up and making mistakes, that’s what a team like St. Louis thrives on,” offered Carey Price, who will likely make his 17th start of the season on Thursday night. “I think it’s easier to be motivated the day after a loss. You win a few games and maybe you feel comfortable. When you get spanked like that, it’s definitely a motivating factor.”

Head coach Michel Therrien shared similar thoughts after putting his team through a brief workout at the Bell Sports Complex on Wednesday morning.

“[Losses like that] definitely give us added incentive when it comes to the type of teaching that we want to do. The players pay a lot more attention to detail. There’s no question that the Blues are a machine, and they have the same Stanley Cup aspirations as the Penguins. It will be another big test for us,” explained Therrien, whose club currently sits atop the NHL standings with a 14-5-1 record and 29 points in 20 games. “They make good decisions with and without the puck. They’re mature, and their play is on point.”

And, they also know a thing or two about keeping the puck out of the net. Brian Elliott and Jake Allen are a solid tandem in goal, combining forces to register a league-leading 1.89 goals-against average thus far this season. It also doesn’t hurt their cause to have the NHL’s second-ranked power play, and the best man advantage away from the friendly confines of the Scottrade Center, lighting the lamp 30.4 percent of the time on the road.

“We’re in a part of the schedule right now that’s very taxing on the players. We only practiced for 30 minutes. We just finished a sequence of five games in eight nights, and you have to manage your players’ energy levels with this schedule,” concluded Therrien. “We’re a young team, and we need to execute the right way. To get there, we need to focus. When we’re just playing, there are small details of the game that we don’t pay attention to. When you’re playing good teams like the Penguins or the Blackhawks, they’ll make you pay the price.”

It’s safe to say the Blues are among those elite teams, too.

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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