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Blues eager for task against undefeated Canadiens

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- Players and coaches love to talk about measuring-stick games.

At this early stage of the 2015-16 season, you won't see a much bigger one.

The Montreal Canadiens host the St. Louis Blues at Bell Centre on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, FS-MW, RDS, CITYM), a game featuring the NHL's top two teams in the overall standings, and in many statistical measures as well.

The Canadiens (6-0-0) are the only undefeated team remaining and the Blues (5-1-0) are right behind them in wins and points.

"They're a team that hasn't lost yet," Blues captain David Backes said Monday. "No one's found the kryptonite to put them away and find a way to steal points from them. But we've played pretty good hockey and it should be one heck of a matchup."


As the Montreal Canadiens opened their dressing room for the media Saturday following their sixth straight win to open the season, goaltender Carey Price was getting undressed at his locker.

The reporters rushed by Price to allow him to remove his equipment, which is not unusual.

What was unusual was that they didn't come back to Price's locker until he was long gone because, as has been the case more often than not this season, he wasn't the main story behind the Canadiens' 4-1 victory against the Detroit Red Wings.


The numbers give a good idea of how compelling this game is.

The Canadiens are second in the NHL in shots on goal per game at 34.0 and the Blues are seventh at 32.2. On the flip side, the Blues are first in shots allowed per game at 25.0 and the Canadiens are seventh at 26.5.

The Canadiens have scored 20 goals, the Blues 21.

St. Louis is second in the NHL in 5-on-5 shot attempts percentage (SAT%) at 57.08 percent, the Canadiens are third at 54.67 percent.

Montreal has the NHL's First Star of the week in goaltender Carey Price, the Blues have the Third Star in right wing Vladimir Tarasenko.

Something, somewhere, will have to give.

"They have one of the best natural goal scorers in the game and some really good pieces around him," Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said. "Their [defense] skates well and they're well-coached and well-structured. They don't give you too much. They have a lot of things going for them."

The main advantage the Canadiens have against the Blues is health. St. Louis will be without defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (lower body) and forwards Paul Stastny (lower body) and Robby Fabbri (concussion), but that does not mean the Canadiens will be taking them lightly.

Still, it could swing the balance in this matchup because of the way the Canadiens have been using a very balanced approach to their game by spreading out the ice time among their forwards.

When Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was asked to assess the reasons behind the Canadiens fast start, he did not hesitate.

"Four lines," Hitchcock said. "They play four lines, and they don't just talk four lines, they play four lines. They get as much from that [Torrey] Mitchell unit as anybody's fourth line, so they're never at a loss for energy. So if they have a scoring line that's not giving it to them they get it back with that one, they come out after goals, they come out when they need a boost in a game.

"So when you're playing four lines, you can keep the pace at a high level and then it's up to the opposition to keep up. Obviously the opposition hasn't been able to keep up with that plan."

The Blues arrive in Montreal looking to complete a season-long six-game road trip with a fifth straight win. The trip took the Blues from the Central Time zone (Minnesota), to Mountain (Calgary and Edmonton), to Pacific (Vancouver), back to Central (Winnipeg) and finishes in the Eastern time zone.

Backes said the Blues have not been tired out by the time-zone jumping schedule. Rather, it has allowed the Blues to come together as a team and the winning has not hurt in that regard.

His coach sees it the same way.

"We know it's a tough building and a good team, but I think everybody feels that we want to play well in the last game of the road trip," Hitchcock said. "We seem to have, quite frankly, gotten better as the road trip's gone on. I think if you look at the way we played in Vancouver, tough building, and the way we played in Winnipeg, tough building, we've gotten better as this road trip's gone on. So we want to finish it with our best effort."

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