St. Louis’ Canadiens continue to grow and entertain despite loss to Jets

Mark Scheifele scored twice, added an assist and fought to complete the Gordie Howe hat trick in his first game against Montreal since his playoff suspension as the Winnipeg Jets hammered the Canadiens 8-4.

From unwatchable to must-watch.

Who are these Montreal Canadiens?

They were both versions of their 2021-22 selves on Tuesday in Winnipeg.

First, the Canadiens revived Dominique Ducharme’s team — which slept-walked through the first 45 games and got blown out routinely through what was shaping up to be the worst season in franchise history — allowing four Jets goals on six shots, seemingly losing the game within minutes of the national anthem wrapping.

They were in turn-the-television-off territory when, suddenly, they morphed back into Martin St. Louis’ Canadiens, winners of five straight, pressing the pedal right through the floor and storming back with four unanswered goals of their own — three of them scored on a 10-0 shot run to end the first period.

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Josh Anderson completed a hat trick to tie the game in the fifth minute of the second period. Rem Pitlick had a penalty shot to give the Canadiens a 5-4 lead but was stymied by Connor Hellebuyck, who came up with his best save of the night and set the table for Andrew Copp to respond seconds later on the power play to get the Jets back on top.

So, things didn’t go the Canadiens’ way from that point on. They allowed two more power-play goals and fell down 7-4 before seven minutes of the final frame were played.

But the Canadiens never let up. They never sagged. They never stopped pushing.

They kept the pressure up on the Jets, generated six quality scoring chances and never appeared fully out of the game until Paul Stastny made it 8-4 with 2:34 remaining.

“Anytime you start a game like that down four goals is not typical, but I thought the guys were right there,” Anderson told reporters afterwards. “Everyone hung in there, and there was still a lot of game to be played. And the way we battled back as a team and (were) able to tie the game — there’s a lot of good things, honestly.”

That’s growth. And it will matter as this team moves through the rest of this season and into the next one.

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Of course, it wasn’t all positive on Tuesday. There was enough bad to clean up, too.

As St. Louis put it, the Canadiens took multiple offensive-zone penalties, suffered “self-inflicted” wounds, and we’d add that goaltender Samuel Montembeault had an off-night before he was replaced in the third period by Andrew Hammond. This team, which has been deservedly on the wrong side of lopsided scores this season, deserved to be on the wrong side of this one, too.

There’s no denying that.

But at least this game felt different than those other ones.

It was entertaining and competitive through and through. It was fun.

That’s what St. Louis has brought to the Canadiens since he took over on Feb. 9 and stated that his main objective was to brighten the dark atmosphere around the team.

That mandate has already been fulfilled.

“He’s a coach that has brought the joy back in coming to the rink,” said Jeff Petry before the Canadiens departed for Winnipeg.

He was Montreal’s most miserable player prior to St. Louis’ arrival, but he’s been playing much better and sporting a smile that’s gotten wider and wider with every passing day under his new coach.

“You’re coming in and you know that on a practice day you’re going to work hard, but it’s also fun out there,” Petry continued. “With him you’re looking forward to coming to the rink day in and day out, so it’s been a refresh and a good change for myself and the team so far.”

It’s been a remarkable change for Canadiens fans, who had grown sick and tired of watching their team this season but probably haven’t been able to turn away from the product they’ve been offered over the last nine games.

None of them expect some crazy run from here to the end. Even most optimists wouldn’t give the Canadiens good odds of winning half their remaining games — many of them to be played with a weaker roster post-trade deadline and against teams firmly entrenched in playoff positions.

But whether or not they’ll compete no longer appears to be in question, and that’s one of many reasons to continue tuning in.

Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Alex Romanov and Anderson are among those offering others. And there’s that Hall of Famer standing on the bench in his first NHL coaching gig doing his part, too.

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