The Habs kicked off an extremely busy month of April on Thursday night that will see them play 17 times over the next 30 days. They were in Ottawa for the April Fool’s Day matchup with the surprising Senators. As the Sens continue to be a thorn in the side of many teams in the Canadian Division, the Habs were hoping to continue their stellar play from Tuesday night. To do so they dressed the same formation with the exception of Jake Allen getting the nod between the pipes as he faced Filip Gustavsson who was playing his fourth career NHL game. Allen was a good call as he made some big saves early before the Habs took over the game and secured a 4-1 victory heading into Easter weekend.
Both teams came out with energy and exchanged scoring chances in the opening five minutes as Nick Suzuki hit the post after a terrible turnover created by Jonathan Drouin. The Ottawa chances came from Thomas Chabot and Drake Batherson, but Allen made some impressive saves early. Michael Frolik was then stopped after a strong rush by Jake Evans created a rebound. A soft play by Jesperi Kotkaniemi behind his own net created a scoring chance for Evgenii Dadonov, but Allen saved his young centre before the midway point of the period.
With 9:12 to play in the period, a strong backcheck by Tomas Tatar was complemented by a strong forecheck by Brendan Gallagher. The latter ended up with the puck and as per usual, he fired on net. The puck bounced off a few bodies before hitting Gustavsson so a big juicy rebound was available and Phillip Danault made no mistake in opening the scoring for the Habs.
The goal was followed by a shift where the fourth line was all over the opposition. However, the line extended their shift and got caught with Victor Mete also being too deep offensively. This created an opening for the Sens but they missed the pass in front of the Montreal net, so Allen got a little lucky. With 40 seconds left in the period, Jeff Petry blew a tire and he tripped Tkachuk in the process for the game’s first penalty.
Jake Evans opened the second period with an absolutely monster shift on the penalty kill. He outhustled the defender to get himself a scoring chance. He then won the race to the rebound, identified a forward as a defender and attacked that side of the ice. While all this was happening, Paul Byron came off the bench and was unchecked. Evans saw this and completed a spin pass to Byron who was all alone to deke the young goaltender to make it 2-0 only 48 seconds into the period.
The Habs killed the rest of the power play with ease and then carried the momentum for the better part of the opening half of the period as many scoring chances were created. The negative side of creating that many chances was that they also gave up a few, but Allen was in the zone and making stops even with his stick on a Brady Tkachuk attempt.
The second half of the period saw the Senators apply their first extended pressure in the Montreal zone, but the Habs appeared quite content to let them skate around the outside of the zone without giving up slot chances. With 6:10 left in the period, Corey Perry’s hands manifested themselves as he deked out Braydon Coburn and drew the first Ottawa penalty of the game. The power play was not very good though Perry did get just miss a tip in the blue paint in the last moments of the sequence.
A minute later, Suzuki caught the Ottawa defenders napping for a breakaway. Suzuki got two shots off but ultimately was held by Mike Reilly leading to a second consecutive power play. This time, they at least got significant zone time even if they didn’t score.
The third period started with the Sens looking to get back in the game and applying pressure on the Montreal defence. This lasted only until the Danault line got on the ice as they caught the Sens cheating that they quickly turned into an offensive zone shift. This continued with the Suzuki line as Josh Anderson rang one off the post. On the next shift, Mete completed a perfect pinch in the offensive zone and Evans made a strong play to get the puck to the front of the net where Perry was in his office as he put it home to extend the lead.
Right at the ten-minute mark, another strong shift along the boards by Gallagher and Tatar led to Danault with the puck in the slot. He found Gallagher who made it 4-0 for the Habs.
With five minutes to play, the Sens showed a little frustration as Nick Paul completed a late check and was sent to the box. The power play was rather static, but they were in the offensive zone and appeared to be satisfied with that as the minutes continued to tick off the clock.
Artturi Lehkonen then took an offensive zone penalty with 1:54 to play as he tripped Nikita Zaitsev. This was just enough to ruin Allen’s shutout bid as Ottawa scored seven seconds later as a shot that missed the net had eyes and found Connor Brown who had a one-timer to the net to score to wrap up the scoring in this one.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jake Evans
I’m not too sure if the rest was a saviour for Evans or if the Eric Staal acquisition has him playing to save his spot in the lineup. Either way, that’s two excellent games by the team’s fourth line pivot since the COVID break and it’s refreshing to have the fourth line capable of controlling a shift. Evans was a difference-maker to start the year and he’s doing it again. Even though he’s likely a taxi squad player soon or down in Laval, this depth is important because with the upcoming schedule, Evans isn’t sitting for the rest of the season and this team wants him playing like he did in this one with more regularity.
Stats: 2 assists, +2, 4 shots, 2 hits, 11:54 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher is awake now and boy does it show. Game after game he’s a handful for the opposition and it opens so much space for Tatar and Danault. Then, the behaviour becomes contagious and the favour is returned such as the Habs fourth goal. Guys like Gallagher, Perry, Anderson, Lehkonen, and Armia, who are consistently hard to play against, give reason to believe that this team still has another gear come playoff time.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 3 shots, 2 hits, 15:55 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jake Allen
Though he’s not always been given adequate scoring support, Allen has been quite consistent since the start of the season and what a luxury it has been. Now consider that he’s taking a significant pay cut to remain as Price’s auxiliary for the next few seasons as Cayden Primeau gets to develop himself properly in Laval. What an incredible pick up by Bergevin that was very solid in picking up yet another win for the Habs.
Stats: 22 saves, 23 shots faced, .957 save %, 1.00 G.A.A., 60:00 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Josh Anderson
This entire line has been a bit snake-bitten lately but none as much as Anderson. On this night, he had a nose for the net, created some scoring chances and even hit a post. It’s coming, and when it does, I think it’s going to be flood gates for Anderson and his linemates.
Stats: 1 shot, 4 hits, 19:02 T.O.I.