Canadiens’ Struble learns valuable lesson from mistake in loss to Blues

Torey Krug had an eye-popping five-assist day and Jordan Kyrou scored twice as the St. Louis Blues blew out the Montreal Canadiens 7-2.

MONTREAL— Jayden Struble knew this moment was coming. He foreshadowed it earlier in the week, telling us he knew it was only a matter of time before he’d make an egregious error in a game.

He said he would try to avoid it at all costs but knew it was inevitable, and he even said it was coming soon.

Struble would’ve loved for it to have passed him by on Sunday, but it happened.

How he handled it will only serve him well, though.

Not that it was easy for the 22-year-old to forget about being posterized 25 seconds into his 34th game in the NHL. Nor should it have been.

Nobody—not even the most seasoned veteran—immediately moves on from such an experience, so you certainly don’t expect a rookie defenceman to do it.

And Struble tried. He attempted to shake it off right after St. Louis Blues forward Alexey Toropchenko slipped the puck between his own skates and left Struble in the dust to score the first of seven goals that blew the Montreal Canadiens out of the Bell Centre on Super Bowl Sunday.

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But no one could blame him for not being able to do it.

Struble had a rough couple of shifts immediately after, and he took a penalty 15 minutes later and watched from the box as St. Louis widened the gap just seven seconds into their power play. And it took him a bit more time to regroup than he’d have liked.

All of that was completely understandable.

That Struble found a way back to being the same player he’s been through his impressive NHL debut in the end, though, is what mattered most. It’s key for his development, and it’s critical for the Canadiens, who lost two young defencemen to injury during the game and will need to continue to rely on Struble to remain as steady as he’s been on his skates through his first strides in this league.

Struble was only on the ice for one more goal against after being directly responsible for the first one, and that was a feat in itself in this 7-2 loss. He made a strong play to set up Joel Armia’s third-period goal, and that was another one. And his willingness to address the media after his first uh-oh moment in the league smacked of maturity.

It should only help Struble process his missteps so he can get further back on even footing in short order.

“He beat me wide, made a nice play,” Struble said about Toropchenko.

He added he’d have liked to have defended the play better, but he also conceded it was the type of quality play any given player at this level could make at any given moment.

Mike Matheson helped him realize it.

“He came right back to the bench and I said to him, ‘That’s why it’s the NHL,’” said the man who’s been on the wrong side of many highlight reels in this league over his 517-game career. “Sometimes, you have to tip your cap and just get back at it because you’re playing against great players and they’re going to make great plays sometimes, too.”

You have to tip your cap to Struble for avoiding being the victim of one for this long.

The former second-round pick has been nothing but impressive since leaping up the depth chart and into the NHL back in November.

He has steadily risen throughout Montreal’s lineup, going from 12 minutes per game in the early stages to regularly earning 18 minutes per game of late, and there’s little reason to think this performance will set him back.

“Stru’s been very good for us, and we’re delusional if we think he’s going to be like that every game,” said Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis. “We have to be careful in how we manage him that way. For him, it starts with the player. You have a bad shift, move on. You have a bad game, move on. You gotta have that short memory for that, but just learn from the mistakes. I’m pretty sure he’ll bounce back.”

The opportunity for Struble to do that is naturally there, especially with Jordan Harris suffering what appeared to be a concussion early on in Sunday’s game and Kaiden Guhle leaving late in the third clutching his left arm after a hit from Marco Scandella. The situation sets him up to play big minutes Tuesday, when the Anaheim Ducks visit the Bell Centre, and there’s reason to believe he’ll thrive in them after watching him take his first step on that path in the middle of Sunday’s game.

“I thought I played hard,” Struble said. “Tried to play hard at least and make the simple plays and just try to get back into it somehow.”

He succeeded. Much more so than some other Canadiens players who also struggled in this game.

Goaltender Jake Allen was off balance from the start and remained that way through the finish. The line of Jake Evans, Josh Anderson and Tanner Pearson was a combined minus-10. And Struble’s partner, David Savard, was well below his typical standard of being defensively stalwart.

The 33-year-old was on the ice for six goals against, and he was able to shake them off quickly after the game, saying he would move on immediately.

But Savard is 765 games into his career and Struble is just starting.

He’s one of several promising defencemen on this team bound to be humbled from time to time.

“Sometimes you forget how young they are, especially at that position,” said St. Louis. “It’s a hard position to play in this league at that age. I think our pool of young defencemen is so good, sometimes you forget how old they are. They’re going to have tough shifts, they’re going to have bad games…”

And they’re going to learn from them.

Struble knew a lesson was on its way.

“I was definitely in awe a few times looking at players or situations—playing MacKinnon, McDavid, the Bruins—and you have a moment where you’re like, ‘Oh (expletive), I can’t believe I’m here,’” he said last Monday. “But on the ice, there hasn’t been (an Oh expletive) moment yet, so I’m just waiting on that.”

It came, and he’s processing it.

Most importantly, Struble said he won’t dwell on it.

“For right now, it sucks,” he said. “Today, it’ll suck. It’ll probably suck for a while and then you’re playing another game and you’ve just got to move on. Things happen too quick, there’s too many games to dwell on it. Hopefully, the (bad taste) gets out of the mouth pretty soon…The biggest lesson is just move on.”

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