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Canadiens show maturity with ugly win over Blue Jackets after hideous loss to Sabres

David Savard came crashing down the gut of the ice and arrived in front of Joonas Korpisalo just in time to have the puck bank off his skate, past the goaltender and into the net for what proved to be the winning goal for the Montreal Canadiens in Columbus on Wednesday.

Ugly goal. Ugly win secured.

Consider it just what the doctor ordered for the Canadiens after they offered up something truly hideous in a 7-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.

They were sloppy, careless, and uncharacteristically flat at the Bell Centre against the Sabres, and they needed to forget about that as quickly as possible to grind out their 10th win of the season and get back on the right side of .500. And to do that with a smart, patient and responsible game—there was nothing pretty about it—against the Blue Jackets on Wednesday is yet another sign of the maturity of this group.

For a young team, they’ve shown many since the start of the season, hence the 10-9-1 record through 20 games. But this one in Columbus, at Nationwide Arena, where they hadn’t won since 2019, was timely and important in their building process.

“I like that we played the game that was in front of us instead of trying to invent one,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis told reporters after the game.

He was talking about not inflicting the type of self-imposed pain the Canadiens had been suffering in recent games.

They didn’t force plays that weren’t there at the start and, as a result, they were able to break the disturbing trend of leaking quality scoring chances and multiples goals.

Defensively, the Canadiens plugged up the middle of the ice and allowed just one high-danger shot attempt from the Blue Jackets, skating to first intermission tied 0-0.

In the second period, when the Canadiens had consecutive lapses and allowed back-to-back breakaways, Samuel Montembeault did what Jake Allen was unable to do a night prior. He came up with key saves and kept the game tied.

One mistake off Mike Matheson’s stick cost the Canadiens a goal 1:08 into the third period.

But instead of wilting, they responded with a goal from Arber Xhekaj a minute and 30 seconds later. And then Savard came barreling down the slot and delivered the dagger against his former team.

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By the time Sean Monahan iced the game with his sixth point in his last seven games—an empty-net goal from his side of his own blue line with 1:53 to go—the Canadiens had already limited the Blue Jackets to zero high-danger chances in the third.

Afterwards, down two men, with Josh Anderson in the box and the Blue Jackets icing six skaters and no goaltender, they only allowed one such chance, which Montembeault swatted away.

“We kept almost everything to the sides,” said Montembeault, pointing to a key factor in this rebound win as a tired team playing against a rested one.

He played great, making 28 saves.

Everyone in front of Montembeault played much better than they did against the Sabres.

“As a group we just made a decision to be better,” said Kirby Dach, who was the one who banked that puck off Savard to register his 17th point of the season. “We’re all capable to understand the game against Buffalo was nowhere near as good as we want to play.”

The Canadiens didn’t need the coaches to tell them.

But St. Louis and his staff also had a hand in this outcome. They pulled Jordan Harris and Chris Wideman and inserted Xhekaj with Johnathan Kovacevic, and they moved Savard to a pair with Matheson and Kaiden Guhle to one with Joel Edmundson.

The coaches also slotted Slafkovsky back down to the fourth line with Evans, who helped produce Xhekaj’s goal, and tried to balance out their middle six by moving Evgenii Dadonov to a line with Brendan Gallagher and Christian Dvorak, and Joel Armia to a line with Sean Monahan and Josh Anderson.

St. Louis said it was to create more of a grinding, cycle game knowing the Blue Jackets weren’t going to take a lot of chances at the offensive blue line and therefore wouldn’t be feeding Montreal’s rush game, and that proved to be an effective strategy in the end.

It’s a different one than the Canadiens have been built to play with, but they needed to find a different way to win to come out of Columbus with two points.

Managing to do so when they just as easily could’ve continued sliding after their worst performance of the season 24 hours earlier was another big step in the growth of the team. It took maturity to forget about Tuesday’s game and reengage as they did in Columbus.

We’ll see if the Canadiens can build off it against Dach’s former team in Chicago on Friday.

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