In a game where the Montreal offence showed some finish against subpar goaltending, Ottawa managed to hang around for the first half before being buried by their own defensive lack of discipline. The Habs ended the game with an 8-3 win, a laugher that allows the Montreal dressing room to truly believe that their horrible start to the season is behind them as the win represents their third over the last four games. Furthermore, the offensive contributions of all four lines on this line will certainly give Claude Julien something to smile about, and allow any passengers to buy in a bit more to the idea of balanced lines. Al Montoya, who deserved a better fate his last time out, was the victorious netminder overcoming his own shaky beginning to the game.
The opening period was a crazy festival of bad goaltending and impressive offensive plays. The barrage of scoring started only 21 seconds into the game as Brandon Davidson completed a terrible pass attempt into his own high slot. Tom Pyatt’s shot looked rather inoffensive, but it bounced off Montoya, high into the air, before landing into the net. This was a shot Montoya would love to see again. This play was unfortunate since Jeff Petry laid out a beautiful hit off the opening faceoff that went unnoticed with the quick goal. Once play resumed, the Habs would not be discouraged as they hemmed the Sens into their zone with some effective forechecking until Paul Byron surprised Erik Karlsson with his speed resulting in Johnny Oduya cross-checking Byron in front of the net. The top power play unit looked completely disorganized, but the second unit was equal to the task. Petry found a streaking Charles Hudon who dangled Karlsson before beating Craig Anderson off the rush to tie the game.
Play settled down for a few minutes until Victor Mete was called for holding. On the Senators’ power play, the puck trickled down to Anderson who held the puck for way too long. Max Pacioretty forechecked the goaltender and stole the puck for an absolute gift of a shorthanded goal. The lead would be short-lived as the Sens would tie it up on the same man advantage. A scramble play came out on the stick of an Ottawa player who sent the puck to Frederik Claesson, who shot-passed wide of the net to find Ryan Dzingel for the tip-in with Zack Smith effectively screening Montoya.
The onslaught of offence wasn’t done yet, as Artturi Lehkonen and Jonathan Drouin worked a pretty give-and-go with the former finishing the play into the open net for his first of the season. Moments later, another effective forecheck by Montreal allowed a point shot by Petry. The shot went wide but found an open Hudon next the net who scored his second on a highlight reel worthy backhand to the top corner. What a period, made even sweeter by the 4-2 lead once it was all said and done.
As would be expected, the second period was much more reserved than the first as both teams buckled down defensively and played far more cautiously… well, for the first half anyways. The early play was even with scoring chances hard to come by for both squads until Davidson accepted an offer by Smith to drop the gloves. This fight appeared to energize the Senators who took over the play for a bit. The defensive posture would cost the Canadiens as Hudon would find himself in the box for a one-handed slash on Dion Phaneuf. Ottawa would score on the power play as Karl Alzner decided to inexplicably sit in his own crease. The puck predictably bounced off him before finding its way into the net.
With a little over two minutes to play, the period appeared to be settled quietly. That’s when Jordie Benn completed an audacious but beautiful cross-ice saucer pass to send Alex Galchenyuk in on a breakaway. The teams’ top scorer made no mistake in restoring the two-goal cushion. A minute later, Gallagher simply out-hustled both Karlsson and Mark Stone before completing the incredible individual effort to make it 6-3. Who Cody Ceci was covering on this play remains a mystery, one that Gallagher certainly wasn’t going to question though.
Both teams exchanged some zone time early in the third, but with nothing happening, Max McCormick tried to get his team back into this one by attacking Torrey Mitchell after the whistle. While Michael McCarron defended his teammate, it was McCormick who paid for his actions with a ten-minute misconduct and the play remaining at even strength. The play also did nothing to wake up the Sens as a few minutes later, Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec broke out on a 2-on-1, with the former finding the latter to make the score 7-3. The last goal of the night was scored by Lehkonen as Byron burst in with speed and Lehkonen was able to put in a bad-angled shot as everything was going right for Montreal shooters.
1) Monkeys be Gone!
Two players who’ve played quite well since the start of the season got on the board in a big way tonight. Hudon scored his first ever NHL goal and followed it up with his second. The way he’s played on most nights suggested that this goal was a long time coming. It wouldn’t be entirely shocking to see the puck start going in with more consistency for the young player.
Likewise, Lehkonen was snake-bitten to start the season, but remained constant and put together another solid effort. Tonight, he was finally rewarded for the work ethic. If these two players start contributing according to the effort level we’ve seen, the offence should be able to get out of the basement of the league. Add in goals for Gallagher and Plekanec to make this a feel-good game for the entire team as all four lines contributed and will be smiling on their way to Minnesota.
2) Blueline Remains a Concern
The last two games have been a whole lot of fun to watch, and getting the team out of the league basement offensively certainly remains a priority. But at least there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel. On the other side of the puck, the play of the defencemen continues to be questionable at best. All of Davidson, Benn, and Alzner appear to be a much better fit on the team’s third pairing. Petry looked like he barely even belonged there until the last two games. He’s played much better in those games but must find that level consistently. I remain a little surprised that Jakub Jerabek hasn’t been given a chance all things considered. Maybe the team wants to see what David Schlemko can bring next to Petry before making that call-up?
3) Effective forechecking
One constant since the start of the season has been the effectiveness of the forecheck when reaching the opposition’s zone. This puck hungry bunch has turned this into zone time and scoring chances, but ultimately also contributed to their league-worst shooting percentage. One of the leaders in this department is Lehkonen who consistently seems to surprise the opposition with his forecheck. He is the best on the Habs for takeaways with four, though he causes far more turnovers than this stat indicates. In the end, look to this quality in Lehkonen to explain his continued deployment on the top line, a spot the sophomore seems intent on keeping.