Jason Spezza gave a demonstration of his awesome skills in overtime to lift the Ottawa Senators past the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 4-3. After making Sheldon Souray look like a post, he had enough time to turn Jose Theodore inside out and roof the winner before 18 840 at the Corel Centre in Ottawa.
In what was surely one of the most exciting games of the season, both teams showed incredible skill with the puck while launching 72 shots on the goaltenders. Not to be outdone, however, the defenders displayed their own talents as the two team’s blueliners stymied dozens of other plays. The icing on the cake, despite the seven goals, went to the goaltenders, particularly Theodore, who received shots that were very often of the highest quality.
In what was surely one of the two highlights of the night, along with Spezza’s goal, after handing the puck to the opposition, Theodore make a miraculous diving stop on newfound scoring hero Chris Neil in the third. Only just behind in quality were the two stops he made on Dany Heatley who had a breakaway attempt and the rebound thereafter in the first.
Contrary to the rest of the game, the first ten minutes or so were somewhat dull, as both Eastern Conference powerhouses played cautiously like two boxing heavyweights, testing and probing for weaknesses in the oppositions defence. It took a shift from the Canadiens top line of Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, and Alex Perezhogin to wake the game up and send it into high gear.
At the 13:21 mark, the Canadiens transition game put Ottawa on its heals as Mike Ryder and Mike Ribeiro broke out two-on-one. Ryder never even looked at his linemate as he wristed a shot that was parried off the end boards by Ray Emery. Ryder didn’t give up however, and played the rebound off the boards on a short hop and tipped it in past the Ottawa goaltender to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead.
Shortly thereafter it was Heatley bearing down alone on Theodore. With the first attempt, Heatley tried to fire it between the wickets and, upon collecting his rebound, he had the open side jammed shut with a wonderful pad save from the Montreal goaltender.
The second saw Montreal bogged down with penalty troubles and even down by two men for a stretch. When Richard Zednik, newly returned to the lineup after spending a lengthy time rehabilitating from a groin injury, overpursued the puck at the blueline, it was massive Zdeno Chara who rifled a precise shot in off the post to bring the score level.
It wasn’t long after, again down by two men, that Montreal was burned by the potent Ottawa powerplay to go down by a goal. With a series of first-timer passes, the puck made its way to Heatley who had Theodore at his mercy.
The Canadiens did anything but roll over. On a power play of their own, Ryder went to the net and took a low shot at Emery which bounced off the skate of Ribeiro. Unable to handle the deflection, Emery allowed the puck to somehow dribble through his pads thus leveling the score.
Ribeiro, continuing his resurgence from a slow start to the season, pocketed yet another goal on the power play at the 14:24 mark when Ryder, who easily played his best game of the season, bent a perfect pass from behind the net through the crease to his very lonely teammate.
The game continued with a very high tempo through until the final goal was scored and at times the end-to-end play was very reminiscent of a playoff match. It was almost fitting, despite the disappointment of Canadiens fans, that the Senators tied the game early in the third.
After a loose puck was coralled in front, Zednik, rather than putting the puck into the corner or off the boards, had his pocked picked and in the ensuing scramble it was Antoine Vermette who scooped in his third of the season to tie the contest.
It was later in the period that Theodore handed the puck to the opposition while trying to clear it around the boards. Two quick passes later and Neil seemed to have a yawning cage in front of him. Somehow, though, after dropping his stick, Theodore managed a soccer style dive to prevent the puck from bulging the onion bag.
Despite losing the game, the Canadiens do come out of this one with a point, and it was well-earned. This bunch of Habs competed with the best in the league and could have easily won as lost this match. The loss will do nothing to lower the lustre on a Montreal team that has surprised at every turn.
With two critical games, Saturday and Monday, against the Rangers coming up, the Habs brass will surely want to see the team continue their remarkable play at both ends of the rink. Certainly, having Theodore at his best will be huge as he faces the hottest player in the NHL: Jaromir Jagr.
However before that, the team can surely sit back and analyze their first ten games and be more than satisfied.