Canadiens’ goaltending an unexpected weakness during recent woes

Patrik Berglund collected a hat trick as the St. Louis Blues took down the Montreal Canadiens 4-2.

•Bad goals haunt Montoya
•Allen’s strong February continues
•Canadiens have chance to reset with bye week looming

MONTREAL — Al Montoya slid across his crease, stumbled over his outside edge and found himself lying on his side. He was swimming helplessly, arms and legs flailing in an attempt to cover his net.

That’s what St. Louis Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo was staring at when he directed a wrist shot off teammate Patrick Berglund’s stick to open the scoring in his team’s 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

"I lost my footing," Montoya said. "Embarrassing."

He never recovered.

A sneaky shot from Blues forward David Perron beat Montoya right through the legs at the 7:20 mark of the second period, and a far less deceptive one was deflected in by Berglund in the final minute of the frame.

"There was one or two I’d have liked to have had back," said Montoya.

The only one he couldn’t have had was Berglund’s hat-trick goal, scored into an empty net while the Canadiens tried to erase their one-goal deficit with six attackers in the dying minutes of the game.

"I’m disappointed about the result because I thought our players, with the intensity and the way that we played, certainly deserved a better result," said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien.

But goaltending, which is supposed to be the biggest strength of this Montreal team, was a weakness on Saturday — much like it has been for the better part of the last month.

Canadiens starter Carey Price, who spent a rare Saturday on the bench, has uncharacteristically allowed three or more goals in all but five of 16 starts since Jan. 1.

Montoya was supposed to offer a reprieve against the Blues. Instead, he was outdone by counterpart Jake Allen.

Allen, who had suffered through the worst statistical month of his career in January, didn’t let a bad first goal in Saturday’s game break his concentration.

Granted, a slapshot from Shea Weber can make any goaltender look bad, but Allen wasn’t impressed with himself on the play. Far from it.

"Just a terrible goal," he said of the shot that caught a piece of his glove and nearly tore a hole in the net. "A pee-wee goalie could’ve stopped it."

An exaggeration, no doubt, but a sign of the standard Allen’s set for himself through February.

Allen, who made 28 saves in front of family and friends at the Bell Centre and picked up his fourth win in his last five outings, contemplated after the game what’s led him to stop 95 per cent of the shots he’s faced this month.

"It was just a rough patch, everyone has them," he said. "I think a lot people made a bigger deal of it than I did. I just worked my way out of it and I just try to get better every time I get on the ice."

It probably didn’t help quiet concerns when Blues GM Doug Armstrong announced to the media on Jan. 20, that Allen would be left off a trip to Winnipeg so he could be given some time to reset mentally.

The rest didn’t pay immediate dividends, with Allen dropping his next two starts, but his resurgence coincided with head coach Ken Hitchcock and goaltending coach Jim Corsi being fired on Feb. 1. With Mike Yeo taking over from Hitchcock and one of the game’s most decorated goaltenders in NHL history in Martin Brodeur taking over Corsi’s responsibilities, the ship appears to have been righted.

"He’s getting himself between the puck and the net," offered Brodeur in jest. "To be honest, he’s just working very hard and needs to continue to do so."

Allen says the familiarity with Brodeur, who served as a teammate for a brief stint and has been a part of the management group in St. Louis over the last two years, has helped.

"He knows me pretty well, knows I’m capable," he said. ""He just preaches to trust yourself and trust your game. I just put the work in to dig myself out over time."

Allen’s game has helped the Blues back into a playoff position, placing them third in the Central Division and four points up on the Western Conference’s bubble teams.

The Canadiens have to believe Montoya, who’s been very steady this season, will rebound. They have to pray Price will do so as quickly as Sunday’s game against the Boston Bruins to help them maintain their healthy lead in the Atlantic Division.

A five-day rest for both goaltenders, as the Canadiens take their bye-week from Feb. 13-17, is likely to help reverse the tide which has seen them lose 11 of the last 20 games — including five of the last six.

"We just have to put it behind us," said Montoya.

Afterwards, he and Price will have to dig deep to get things back on the rails for the stretch run.

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