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Canadiens credit St. Louis' mentality for renewed desire to win hockey games

Montreal Canadiens centre Jake Evans (71) scores against Ottawa Senators goaltender Filip Gustavsson during first period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, March 19, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL — Two of the most popular words around the Canadiens locker room lately are “confidence” and “swagger" – and Montreal played with both in its most recent victory.

After a tight first period, the Canadiens broke out with three second-period goals in a 5-1 triumph over the Ottawa Senators Saturday.

The Habs (17-36-9) are still last in the Eastern Conference with 43 points but they say they have been stepping on the ice with a renewed desire to win under coach Martin St. Louis.

Since the Hockey Hall of Famer stepped behind the bench, the players say they have wholeheartedly bought into his mindset.

“Pretty much ever since Marty came in, we’ve just been paying attention to detail, watching a lot of video and learning a lot too,” said Josh Anderson. “He's brought a lot to the table and I think everyone's just playing with that swagger and confidence.

“I love how we just go into every game right now expecting to win. It’s a good mindset from everybody.”

St. Louis admitted that his coaching style could be different if his team was under the pressure of chasing for a playoff spot. He says he is proud of his team’s performances and ability to play confidently from top to bottom.

“The NHL is a very tough league to play in and if you don’t have swagger it’s really tough to win and to be productive,” St. Louis said. “That’s something you need to try to have every day and if you focus only on the results, it becomes easy to lose it.

“You need to assess your own performance before focusing on the results and you’ll be able to keep your swagger a little longer.”

Twelve different players recorded a point for Montreal. Jake Evans was the only Habs player with a multi-point night, notching one goal and one assist.

“I think all the guys are proud of their performance,” St. Louis said. “Some of them are at the start of their careers, some of them in the middle but they’re doing their best to improve their fate.”

“There’s a lot of guys that are trying to prove (themselves) to management,” added Paul Byron, who scored in the second period. “The first part of the season wasn’t good but they’re trying to show that they can be a part of the solution.”

Evans and Byron joined Cole Caufield, Joel Armia and Brett Kulak as Montreal’s goal scorers. Jake Allen, who recently returned from an injury sustained in January, made 29 saves and grabbed a first win since Nov. 27, 2021 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Josh Norris scored the lone goal for Ottawa (22-35-5), which got 22 saves from Filip Gustavsson.

“We made a couple of major mistakes that ended up in the net,” said Sens coach D.J. Smith. “We had lots of chances, grade-A chances, and Allen made a lot of saves. He's probably the difference.”

Montreal scored first following a Sens turnover in their own zone. Evans beat Gustavsson with a top corner wrist shot from the left face-off circle at 16:32 in the first.

Ottawa tied the game with 1:09 to go in the period. Colin White sent a behind-the-legs no-look pass for Norris who didn’t miss his one-timer opportunity and notched his 26th goal of the season.

The Habs got back in front with two early goals in the second period. Michael Pezzetta combined with Byron following a deep stretch pass from Evans to make it 2-1 at 2:42.

Caufield then gave Montreal a two-goal lead with a heavy wrist shot at 4:23. He's scored in four consecutive games.

Montreal ended a productive second period with a power-play goal. With 32 seconds remaining, Armia redirected Corey Schueneman’s slap shot from the point to give the Canadiens a 4-1 advantage.

Kulak skated through the Ottawa defence and added a fifth Canadiens goal at 8:14 of the third period.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2022.

Tristan D'Amours, The Canadian Press

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