The Habs continued their busy week by facing the Ottawa Senators for the first of ten times on the season. The youthful Sens had been struggling mightily, so this was definitely somewhat of a trap game with the Habs flying high. Montreal’s league-high offence kept its same composition, while the blue line returned to its original setting of Alexander Romanov and Brett Kulak on the third pairing as Victor Mete was returned to the press box. Carey Price was the starting netminder as he faced Matt Murray.
The game was preceded with a nice ceremony to highlight Shea Weber’s 1,000th game in the league. This would be just about the only positive on the night as the 3-2 final score in favour of the Senators does not clearly indicate how poorly the Habs skated and executed their game plan on this night.
The start of the game was an exercise in patience for the fans as the Habs were content to control the pace of play without really driving the play to the centre of the ice where they could have been dangerous. The exception to this was the top unit of Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, and Phillip Danault. They drove the net from the very first shift where Tatar almost scored. With 9:29 to play, Tatar broke in and recognized that both Gallagher and Danault were screening Murray. He shot and Gallagher picked up the greasy rebound for a 1-0 lead.
Play remained really quiet for the rest of the period, but it really felt like the Habs were not aggressive enough in trying to bury what was a vulnerable team. As is usually the case, they paid for such passivity when Tim Stützle stretched the mid-change pairing of Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson with a pass to Chris Tierney. The latter found a streaking Thomas Chabot who fired it home with only 40 seconds to play.
Seconds later, Jeff Petry got caught flat-footed and took a holding penalty. With only 20 seconds to play, Paul Byron and Jake Evans were not aggressive enough on the penalty kill and left wide-open a cross-ice seam that Drake Batherson used to find Stützle who buried a shot past Price. This left Montreal behind after a period they controlled for 19 minutes.
Ottawa carried that momentum out in the second period as they were first on every puck and quite simply out-hustling the Habs. The fourth line of Byron, Evans, and Artturi Lehkonen put their best foot forward to fight back, but the rest of the team looked absolutely stunned that the Senators were a capable hockey team. Price had to make a few good stops, mostly against Stützle. 8:12 in, Nick Suzuki lost a defensive zone faceoff and the ensuing point shot was tipped by Connor Brown to extend the lead to 3-1.
Romanov tried to rally the team with a gigantic hit on Chabot. Even though the hit was clean, Nick Paul took exception to it as expected as he went after Romanov. The result was a Habs power play that looked fairly dangerous before Connor Brown threw the puck down the ice, giving them a 20-second two-man advantage. The short 5-on-3 and rest of the power play was absolutely awful as Montreal proceeded to be offside at least five times in two minutes of play. Heading into the third period, the Habs absolutely deserved to be down 3-1 after two periods.
Suzuki started the third with a rotating set of wingers as Josh Anderson was not out to start the third and Jonathan Drouin went to the room once Anderson came back. This mattered little as the team was clearly completely out of sorts. Corey Perry tried to get his team going by getting under Erik Gudbranson’s skin which resulted in somewhat of a fight.
This got Anderson going as he was easily the best player on the ice for the final ten minutes. It started with a rush up the ice where he was flying and got tripped to create a Habs power play. It had some good looks, especially Tyler Toffoli, but they were unable to cash in.
Immediately after the first penalty, Brady Tkachuk was guilty of an offensive zone trip on Chiarot. Once again, the power play looked good with Petry ringing a shot off the post.
With the score 3-1 and 3:31 to play, Chiarot lost a race to a puck but he didn’t see that Price was out and clearly was going to get to the puck before Tkachuk. The end result was Chiarot hitting the charging Senators player with a high stick for a four-minute penalty.
After a strong offensive shift on the penalty kill by Suzuki and Toffoli, Danault won an offensive faceoff and Anderson ripped a shot home to make it 3-2 with 1:28 left. This was followed with an absolutely horrendous call on Tatar after Gudbranson sold a soft check into the boards. It ended the night early, but let’s not get over-extended, the Habs did not deserve the win on this night.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Alexander Romanov
At least one player gave a crap on this night and it was the rookie Romanov. He made some nice crisp pass on his return to the ice. He laid out Chabot in an effort to energize his squad in the second period, and just looked more dialled in than most of his teammates.
Stats: -1, 2 shots, 3 hits, 20:07 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Brendan Gallagher
It’s when the team falls asleep for the better part of a 60-minute game that one notices that Gallagher hasn’t slowed down. Simply put, the rest of the team has gotten much better which means Gallagher stands out less than usual, but he’s still a relentless heart and soul guy, so no surprise that he’s the one that got the Habs’ lone tally at five-on-five on this night.
Stats: 1 goal, 0(+/-), 4 shots, 15:22 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Josh Anderson
Anderson scored a late goal and looked quite dangerous for most of the third period. Unfortunately, he waited until the third to get going and it was too little too late.
Stats: 1 goal, 0(+/-), 5 shots, 5 hits, 17:04 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Tyler Toffoli
This effort likely doesn’t warrant a highlight in any other game so far this season, but Toffoli was able to quietly get open for a few chances in the third period, which is more than can be said for most of the team.
Stats: 2 shots, 1 hit, 15:26 T.O.I.