A recent coaching change and four-game winning streak had the St. Louis Blues feeling good heading into a seven-game stretch that included six on the road. Starting that span with a loss to a lowly opponent now has them regrouping.
The Blues face another struggling club Wednesday night when they visit the Montreal Canadiens for the first time in almost two years.
St. Louis (21-20-7) returned to the playoffs last season, ending a franchise-record three-year absence. The Blues, however, failed to carry any of that momentum into 2009-10, and fired coach Andy Murray on Jan. 2 following four consecutive losses.
Davis Payne was hired from their AHL affiliate, but the Blues lost three in a row before strong defensive play spurred a four-game winning streak in which they outscored their opponents 13-5.
That ended with Monday's 4-2 road loss to Columbus, the last-place team in the Central Division.
"It felt like a step backward," said Chris Mason, who made 26 saves. "That is definitely not the style of hockey we have been playing. I don't know if we got a little bit ahead of ourselves after winning four games and thought that we were better than we were, but we definitely didn't bring the work ethic that helped us win those four games."
Mason will likely be in net Wednesday, and he was a big reason for St. Louis' winning streak, starting each game and posting a 1.26 goals-against average and his first shutout of the season. On Monday, he was named the NHL's second star of the week after going 3-0-0 with a 0.67 GAA.
In his last five road starts, though, Mason is 1-3-1 with a 3.20 GAA.
Mason's only career appearance against Montreal came while with Nashville on Dec. 1, 2007, and he was pulled late in the first period after allowing two goals on six shots. The Predators rallied with four third-period goals and won 5-4 in a shootout.
The Blues rank toward the bottom of the NHL with 126 goals scored, and some increased production from Andy McDonald would help increase that total. He's mired in a five-game drought after scoring seven in the previous eight, including a four-game goal streak.
Eight of McDonald's team-high 14 goals have come on the road. He has one in three career games at Montreal.
The Blues dropped their only meeting with the Canadiens last season, falling 3-2 in a shootout on Nov. 16, 2008. However, they won 4-3 in a tiebreaker during their last visit to Montreal on March 18, 2008.
The Canadiens (23-23-4) have scored more than two goals only once while losing five of seven. That came after tallying 24 goals in a 6-1-0 stretch.
They appeared to be poised to start another solid run Sunday, but blew a two-goal first-period lead by giving up six straight in a 6-2 loss to the Rangers in New York.
"We played a very strong period and then we gave it away," said Canadiens coach Jacques Martin, who led St. Louis to the playoffs in his two seasons there starting in 1986. "We had turnovers and a bad play selection. I think it's a matter of us playing the type of hockey we are capable of."
Michael Cammalleri, who leads the team with 22 goals, might provide an offensive spark for Montreal after scoring twice in three games to match his production from the prior 13. Cammalleri has 10 goals in 15 games against St. Louis, including five in four meetings with Calgary last season.