There just wasn't enough room for both Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price in Montreal, leading to Halak's eventual trade to the Blues despite a run of success with the club.
Halak is once again battling a teammate for playing time, but that won't stop St. Louis head coach Ken Hitchcock from giving him the start tonight in Halak's first trip back to Montreal.
The 26-year-old Halak was selected in the ninth round of the 2003 draft by the Canadiens and went 56-34-7 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .919 save percentage during a four-season stint with Montreal. He overtook Price for starting duties in the 2010 postseason and helped lead the eighth-seeded Habs to the conference finals.
However, with the Canadiens already heavily invested in Price, they dealt Halak to the Blues on June 16, 2010 for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. After facing the Canadiens last year in St. Louis, Halak will finally make his return to the Bell Centre this evening.
"Obviously, it's great to be back in Montreal to play a game," Halak said on Monday. "I'm glad I get the start tomorrow, and hopefully it's going to be a great game for both sides."
Halak has gone 36-28-12 with a 2.43 GAA and .910 save percentage since joining the Blues, but has split time in net this year with Brian Elliott, who is second in the league with five shutouts this season and is also among the league leaders with a 1.62 GAA and .940 save percentage.
Despite sharing duties in net, Halak is simply focused tonight on getting his team a win. He has been doing that as of late, going 6-0-3 in his last nine starts with a 1.95 GAA.
"It feels a little weird to be on the other side, but my home is St. Louis right now, and we are here and we're going to play a great game," Halak said. "Obviously there are two points on the line, we want to do our best and we'll see at the end of the night who comes out with a win."
It was Elliott who got the call in net when the Blues wrapped a perfect three- game homestand on Saturday, making 15 saves in a 4-0 shutout of Colorado that moved St. Louis into first place in the Central Division and improved the club to 18-5-5 since Hitchcock took over midseason.
"I don't think any of the guys [knew]," said forward David Backes of being in first place. "That only lasts so long in the Western Conference unless you continue to play well and get points every night. That's our goal, we have to establish our good game on the road especially in a tough building like Montreal."
Patrik Berglund and Kevin Shattenkirk scored first-period goals while Jason Arnott and Backes added power-play markers in the second stanza for St. Louis, which is 9-0-1 in its last 10 games at home. The Blues are only 7-9-3 on the road but kick off another five-game homestand on Thursday versus the Canucks.
Halak faced Montreal on March 10 of last year in the only encounter between the Blues and Canadiens, stopping 27-of-28 shots in a 4-1 win. It improved St. Louis to 3-0-1 in its past four versus Montreal, with each of the previous three meetings going beyond regulation.
The Blues have won four of their last five at Montreal.
The Canadiens come into this game looking to win three straight for the first time since a four-game run from Oct. 26-Nov. 4. Montreal's 3-1 victory over Tampa Bay on Saturday gave it back-to-back wins under interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth for the first time.
Mike Blunden and Max Pacioretty each scored in the second period, while Erik Cole netted his team-leading 17th goal to give him seven points over a five- game point streak. Carey Price stopped 23 shots for the Canadiens, who had lost seven of eight since the last time they won back-to-back games on Dec. 10-13.
"It's been a while since I scored and tonight, getting that shot off, well I shot at the net and that's what happened," said Pacioretty, who scored for the first time since Dec. 10. "We were able to keep [the lead] and that's the difference between winning and losing hockey games."
Montreal had captain Brian Gionta back in the lineup for the first time in 12 games due to a lower-body injury.
St. Louis, meanwhile, is eligible to have defender Ian Cole back in the lineup after he finished up a three-game suspension on Saturday for an illegal check against Detroit last weekend.