The Habs went into play on Saturday night looking to snap a season-long winless streak. They came out with one of their best starts of the season and rode that to a 3-1 victory over Ottawa.
Michel Therrien made a pair of lineup decisions, one that pretty much everyone expected and another that caught many by surprise. Nathan Beaulieu returned to the lineup in place of Greg Pateryn (the one that was expected) while Mike Condon did not return between the pipes as Dustin Tokarski made his second straight start (the surprising decision). Therrien also tweaked his lines a bit as Max Pacioretty and Lars Eller swapped linemates.
The Habs came out flying in the first period. Actually, that’s probably an understatement. Brian Flynn opened the scoring early, tapping one home after a nice wraparound by Beaulieu who had some jump in his step after being benched against Detroit.
Montreal threw everything but the kitchen sink against the Sens and Craig Anderson who was peppered all period long. He was at the top of his game and held the Canadiens at bay. Just as it was looking like the score would remain 1-0 heading to the dressing rooms (a score that would have heavily favoured the Senators), Montreal took advantage of a Kyle Turris turnover; the puck got over to Max Pacioretty who fired home his 14th of the season to double the lead after 20 minutes.
Shots on goal in the period were 27-8 in favour of the home side. That shot total matched a franchise record (Montreal previously hit that mark in 1973 and 1977).
The Habs didn’t let up to start the second. Jeff Petry made it 3-0 and moments later, Pacioretty looked to have his second goal of the night. That was waved off after review as Pacioretty batted it in with his glove. That didn’t stop the Sens from giving Anderson a mercy hook, replacing him with Chris Dreidger.
That seemed to wake Ottawa up as they were the better team for the rest of the period. Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored to get them on the board and then Tokarski was called on to stem the tide before the buzzer. Pageau has now scored in each game against the Canadiens this season. Shots on goal in the middle frame were 10-9 for the Sens.
With the Habs struggling in the third as of late, they were tentative and hesitant for much of the final period. Ottawa had several good chances and came very close on a couple of late powerplays but timely blocks from Flynn and Tomas Plekanec helped hold them off. Montreal didn’t throw much at Driedger which is a bit concerning for a fragile team but they held on for the win nonetheless. Shots were 8-6 for the visitors in the third.
Tokarski picked up his first NHL win of the season, turning aside 25 of 26 Ottawa shots. Anderson picked up the loss, allowing all three goals on 31 shots while Driedger stopped all eleven fired his way. Neither team scored with the man advantage; Montreal went 0/4 while Ottawa went 0/2.
HW Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star: Max Pacioretty – With the offence drying up, many were calling for the captain to step it up. He did just that in this one, especially in the first half of the game. His goal in the first was a trademark snipe while he generated several other strong chances as well. (Missing the empty netter with seconds to go wasn’t a great way to end the night though…)
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 8 shots, 3 hits, 20:26 TOI
2nd Star: Nathan Beaulieu – I was curious to see how he’d respond after getting benched. Suffice it to say, he couldn’t have responded much better. He was aggressive on the attack – which led to the first goal – while being solid in his own end as well. Therrien rewarded him with his highest ice time of the month.
Stats: 1 assist, even rating, 4 shots, 3 blocks, 16:16 TOI
3rd Star: Brian Flynn – He didn’t play a ton but he made an impact in several ways. He scored (and had a few other chances), he had the highest faceoff percentage on the team, and his blocked shot on the penalty kill was huge. A very solid game for him.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 4 shots, 2 blocks, 10/16 faceoffs, 12:26 TOI
Honourable Mention: Dustin Tokarski – He wasn’t tested a whole lot early but Ottawa carried much of the play in the second half of the game and Tokarski more or less shut the door. He’s not going to earn any style or technique points but he got the job done and rewarded Therrien’s decision to give him another start.
Stats: 25 saves on 26 shots, 1.00 GAA, .962 SV%
Montreal’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s was also in action on Saturday night. They took a 2-1 lead into the third but were unable to hold on, losing 3-2 in OT to Rochester. Gabriel Dumont and Stefan Fournier had the goals for the IceCaps.