Max Pacioretty has produced consistently for a Montreal Canadiens offense that has struggled at times throughout the season.
His contributions have been even more important with the club relying on recent call-ups due to multiple injuries.
The Canadiens try to extend their lead atop the Eastern Conference on Tuesday night as they face a St. Louis Blues team looking to end a four-game homestand on a positive note.
Montreal (38-16-5) has a one-point edge on Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders for the East’s No. 1 playoff seed, holding three games in hand on the Lightning and two on the Islanders.
The Canadiens rank in the bottom third of the NHL in goals, though, despite Pacioretty’s 29 — 11 more than second-leading scorer Tomas Plekanec. Pacioretty scored twice in the first period of Saturday’s 3-1 home win over Columbus as the Canadiens ended a two-game skid, and he’s either scored or assisted on six of Montreal’s nine goals over the last four.
"With two (goals) early, you’re not going to take many chances for the rest of the game," Pacioretty said. "We were able to play a sound defensive game. That’s what it takes to win."
Carey Price made 31 saves and allowed no more than one goal for the eight time in 12 starts, a stretch in which he’s gone 10-1-1 with a 1.14 goals-against average. He’s gone the last four with a thin blue line in front of him, as Sergei Gonchar (upper-body injury) will be out at least another week and Alexei Emelin (shoulder) could miss up to six.
Forward Alex Galchenyuk has missed the last two games with the flu but could return for this contest. Defensemen Greg Pateryn, Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi along with forwards Christian Thomas and Jacob De La Rose have helped the Canadiens overcome those injuries since being recalled from the AHL.
"The difference (Saturday) was all the call-ups," Pacioretty said. "They felt comfortable out there. We’re battling adversity, and they stepped up."
Pacioretty scored twice and Price made 31 saves in a 4-1 win over the Blues on Nov. 20 as the Canadiens ended a five-game losing streak to St. Louis.
The Blues got off to a quick start in that contest as Vladimir Tarasenko scored in the first period, but that hasn’t been the case while dropping two of three on their homestand.
St. Louis (38-17-4) has allowed the first goal in each contest, including Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh.
"I think you have slow starts when you’re not connected in your team play," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We’re a team that relies on structure, puck support, discipline with puck support, everybody in the same page. Some teams can maybe play on 70 percent on the same page. We’re not one."
The Blues are seven points back of Nashville for the Central Division lead, though they have a game in hand.
"I feel like the other teams are starting to get into playoff mode and I think we’re a step behind," forward T.J. Oshie said. "It’s taking us too long."
Brian Elliott made 25 saves, but he wasn’t very sharp while dropping his second straight start and took the blame for the defeat. It’s unclear if he or Jake Allen will be in net for this contest.
Price is 1-2-0 with a 3.25 GAA in three career starts in St. Louis.