A team that resembled the Rocket more than the Canadiens took to the ice tonight in Ottawa and got rocked 5-1 at the hands of a more complete Senators squad. Dressed veterans included backup goaltender Al Montoya, the Tomas Plekanec line, as well as Karl Alzner and Jordie Benn (unless one would be interested in counting Joe Morrow, Brandon Davidson, Michael McCarron, Daniel Carr and Jacob De la Rose as proven NHL talent).
The game started quite well for the Canadiens who were exchanging zone time and puck possession with the Senators. Charles Hudon, Plekanec, and Artturi Lehkonen went right back to work as they appeared dangerous early. Jérémy Grégoire hit the post on his first shift, which could have changed the outcome on this night. Instead, Hudon skated by the puck twice after a good scoring chance. This led to Ottawa leaving their zone and exploiting the terrible blue line. Matt Taormina covered the board side and compounded his mistake by stick-checking his player. After this inexcusable play, Davidson played Bobby Ryan softly, then misread coverage lamentably as he and Hudon ended up covering the same player. This type of coverage was frequent by Davidson on this night as he often let Montoya out to dry.
The second Senators goal of the period was another defensive comedy of errors. Peter Holland lost a draw and allowed his coverage to coast unscathed to the high slot. While this went on, Benn identified the wrong man in coverage and allowed his man to make it to the front of the net untouched. The point shot came through a screen, creating a big juicy rebound from Montoya that another Senators rookie put home to make it 2-0. The few positives this period included the NHL line and Brett Lernout continuing his physical play all over the ice. It must also be mentioned that Al Montoya actually had a good period despite what the score indicated.
The second period was not much better for the bleu-blanc-rouge as Holland and Byron Froese decided to both play centre for a shift while Johnny Oduya had all day to skate into the slot and slap one home. Unfortunately for Montoya, he also failed to challenge the shot sufficiently on this occasion, failing to aid his struggling teammates. After the third Ottawa goal, the Canadiens decided to mail it in for the better part of ten minutes, leaving Montoya nearly alone to keep the score reasonable. Having seen enough, Grégoire once again stepped up and picked a fight. His efforts seemed to work as the Canadiens woke up and controlled a few minutes of play. Ottawa would make it 4-0 when Benn made a defensive zone pass to Carr who was completely asleep and let it slide under his stick to the Senator defenseman. Chris Wideman would put it on net through a screen and a couple deflections to get through Montoya. Before the end of the period, Montreal would show signs of life and finally score. Lehkonen entered the zone and attracted two defenders, leaving Hudon free. Plekanec made no mistake and neither did Hudon on that shot.
The third period would see more Montreal players get involved, but it’s hard to tell if this is because of an intermission message from Claude Julien, or simply because the Senators eased up in the effort department. Either way, McCarron looked much better in the third, along with Matt Taormina, Grégoire, and Carr. Ultimately, there was not enough skill on the ice to mount a three-goal rebuttal, but it was nice to see a bit of effort. With nearly two minutes to play, Morrow got beat defensively and take a hooking penalty which allowed the Senators to make it 5-1 and end another preseason game with Julien and his squads looking for their first taste of victory.
Good, Bad, and Random Thoughts
1: The Good
Hudon-Plekanec-Lehkonen continues to look dangerous on nearly every shift they spend on the ice. They were the lone markers on this night and it could have easily been more than one if Davidson and Taormina could have put home some great feeds. It will be interesting to see how the line fares when they start getting some attention as a dangerous unit from the opposing teams.
Daniel Audette was the best forward not on the top line tonight. If he can play this level of hockey consistently, he could find himself playing in Montreal before others that the fan base has been waiting for over the last few years.
Jérémy Grégoire continues to forecheck hard and finish his hits while creating some chances offensively. He might not be in consideration for a position with the team, but at least he’s showing a little effort.
Matt Taormina had a terrible first period. Good for him to bounce back and play decent in the second and the third. While discrete at even-strength, he was a nice presence on the man advantage.
2: The Bad
For an organization who prides itself on depth, it’s hard to watch players like McCarron, de la Rose, Carr, Morrow and Davidson play as the best of the players who won’t make the roster. Have they shown anything to suggest they should even be considered for a call-up at any point this season? Unfortunately, it’s not like Scherbak, Froese, Holland, Terry, Gélinas, or Redmond have been much better.
Remember when fans were freaking out because Jordie Benn was likely headed to Vegas instead of Nathan Beaulieu? Benn had a rough playoff series against the Rangers last season, and he’s not off to a great start to camp either. He’ll get the veteran treatment with the free pass until the games count, but boy it hasn’t been pretty.
Brandon Davidson has easily been at the bottom of the pile for defencemen in both games he’s played this preseason. Bad decisions with the puck, terrible defensive reads, losing battles and races. Unless he turns it around immediately, there’s no way he breaks camp with the team.
3: Random Thought
Brett Lernout has easily been the most physical defender for the Canadiens over the course of this training camp. Not only this, but his gap control and defensive decisions have been generally very solid. He makes an acceptable first pass, but does need to work on the speed of his decision-making and his overall puck management in the offensive zone. Unfortunately for him, he now represents the type of player that is already in saturation on the Montreal blue line. If he can earn some playing time in Montreal at some point this season and show to be a capable third-pairing guy, he could make a guy like Benn expendable rather quickly.
Following the game, the Canadiens returned four players to Laval: Audette, Broll, Grégoire, and Lernout.