The third preseason game of the new season saw the Habs take on the next-door rival Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre on Friday night. One could have hoped for some intensity in such a game but it was not to be found on the Canadiens’ side at least, as the Senators took the game by a 7-2 score.
Canadiens’ lines for the game:
Jonathan Drouin – Christian Dvorak – Josh Anderson
Lukas Vejdemo – Ryan Poehling – Alex Belzile
Rafael Harvey-Pinard – Jake Evans – Joel Armia
Michael Pezzetta – Jan Mysak – Alexandre Fortin
Kaiden Guhle – David Savard
Ben Chiarot – Chris Wideman
Sami Niku – Gianni Fairbrother
First, they give up a goal
Christian Dvorak has been showing off his ability to perform controlled offensive zone entries, and he did it again, on the left side, just after the three-minute mark. The trouble is, the rest of the forwards weren’t ready for it, so he ended up shooting the puck around the boards without the others being able to jump on it.
Niku, though, was ready and stopped the puck inside the blue and then pinched in to bring it closer to a scoring position. This was also good, but Anderson, the rearmost of the forwards, wanted to get in on the action and drove on the net.
So, Niku got a shot in from a shallow angle, and Matt Murray made a nice stop. Nick Paul snatched the puck for Ottawa, though, and fed it to Shane Pinto, who broke out with Austin Watson. With both Niku and Anderson at the net, only Chiarot was left to defend on the two-on-one break, with Drouin skating hard but not quite able to break up the play.
The two Senators executed a tidy back-and-forth passing play to pull Allen to the right side of the net, enabling Watson to one-time a Pinto pass over the sliding Allen’s shoulder for the 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes later, much of that having been spent in the Habs’ defensive zone, Allen made a pretty save on Pinto, and this time it was time for the Canadiens to break out. Dvorak carried the puck out and into the offensive zone again, and then dropped it to Drouin, who quickly found Wideman on the opposite side. Murray saved Wideman’s shot but gave up a juicy rebound back to the left side, where Belzile was in a perfect position to one-time the puck into the net and tie up the game at one.
By this time the Habs were showing signs of life, even putting the puck on Murray at times, but unfortunately, the good times were destined not to last long.
With four minutes remaining in the period, the Senators were once again controlling the play in the Habs’ end of the ice, and when Artem Zub lobbed a pass into the scrum in front of the net, it took a weird bounce off the body of one of those players and ended up behind Allen for another Ottawa lead.
The ugly part was yet to come, though: at 16:38, Josh Norris hit Niku hard from behind and into the glass. Norris was not called for boarding, but Niku was clearly shaken up. As he got back to his feet and skated to the bench, it was clear that he was bleeding into his visor and onto the ice. He left for the dressing room and did not return with a reported upper-body injury.
A second dose of punishment
Montreal started the second period on a man disadvantage, thanks to a late first-period tripping call on Pezzetta. The penalty killers did their job, but when Pezzetta returned to the ice, Montreal did not manage to take control of the puck.
Fairbrother had the puck on the end boards but lost it to Pinto, who fought off a half-hearted attempt by Chiarot to recover it. Paul was there, though, and snapped it through traffic and past Allen for a 3-1 lead.
The subsequent Habs power play, from a Nikita Zaitsev cross-check, was all for nought as the Habs could not even register a shot on goal.
Just before the nine-minute mark, Armia lost a puck battle on the right-side boards, and Ottawa jumped out onto a two-man break with Alex Formenton and Drake Batherson. Yet again, it was a two-on-one with only Chiarot defending — Savard had got caught deep in the offensive zone — and yet again, the Senators took advantage to make it a 4-1 lead on Formenton’s goal.
The Habs finally capitalized on an Ottawa penalty at 12:23. With the passing plays working this time, Drouin fed the puck along the blue line to Wideman, who took a slapshot on Murray. As the puck bounced off Murray’s pads, Dvorak was in position in front of the net. He took a quick shot, saved by Murray, another shot and a save, and then, finally, one more from closer to the side of the net to bring the Canadiens back within two.
That joy was short-lived for the Habs fans who had made the trip to Ottawa, though. Less than a minute later, the Sens were back at it. Allen made a solid save on Thomas Chabot, but Guhle was unable to clear the puck from the side boards, and Fortin couldn’t control it, either. Parker Kelly could, though: he tapped it to Egor Sokolov and Sokolov’s way was clear: Savard and Mysak were in front of the net but not in position to intercept him or block the shot. Allen was left alone once again, and it was now 5-2 for Ottawa.
With three and half minutes left, Pezzetta took exception to a check by Kelly, and dropped his gloves, seemingly surprising Kelly who got the worst of the tangle and headed for the change room. Pezzetta drew four minutes, half of that offset by Kelly’s minor. Kelly didn’t return for the third period.
That fight cost the Habs, though by this time the game was pretty much lost anyway. The key to this goal was Andrew Agozzino’s cross-check on Allen: with Allen losing his stick and his focus, it was an easy goal for Norris from the side of the net. Allen felt there was goalie interference but Savard pushing Agozzino into Allen on the play dissuaded the Canadiens from challenging.
An ugly period indeed: the shots were a wide-open 15-13 for Ottawa, but the Senators scored on four of those 15. And yet Allen certainly could not be fingered as the scapegoat as there was rarely a pair of defencemen between him and the Senators’ attack.
Let’s get this thing over with
Poulin came into the game for the third period, and I expect that Allen did not mind handing over the goaltending duties one bit.
Things were far less intense by this time, with both teams seemingly satisfied to let things go and wrap it up with no further injuries. Each team record only five shots, and only the Sens managed to score with the goal coming just 14 seconds into the period.
Shockingly, it was yet another two-on-one break for the Senators. Norris picked the pockets of Savard at centre ice, and fed it to Batherson and Formenton for their break, with Guhle the only man back. It was Poulin, not Allen, that was victimized this time but the method was very much the same. An ugly 7-2 Senators win is where this ended up.
The obligatory shootout show also turned into a loss. Armia put a tidy wrister over Murray, but Dvorak, Evans and Poehling all failed to score. With Zub and Tyler Ennis scoring for Ottawa, that finished the shootout at 2-1 after four rounds.
On to tomorrow’s game, then. Can Ducharme find some defensive combinations that will work? Clearly, the loss of Niku did not help, but regardless of pairings, far too often only a single player — often Chiarot — was left back to defend. Savard, in particular, looked weak relative to his reputation as a stay-at-home defenceman.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Christian Dvorak (1g, 0a, 4s, E, 17:47 TOI) was the cream of the Habs’ crop in this one, although admittedly that is faint praise. But Dvorak was able to effect controlled offensive zone entries that so often eluded the Habs last year, and clocked nearly 18 minutes of ice time. The shots stat does flatter him somewhat as three of those were within a two-second span as he worked towards his power play goal. No goal on the shootout, but the attempt was good, at least.
Second Star: Chris Wideman (0g, 2a, 4s, +1, 22:42 TOI) was far better defensively than at least this writer expected, and assisted on both of the Habs’ goals. He was not on the ice for any of the Sens’ two-on-one breaks and made a solid contribution to the power play. His ice time was second only to Chiarot, and then only by 11 seconds.
Third Star: Alex Belzile (1g, 0a, 2s, +1, 14:13 TOI) played a solid game, and outplayed his more highly-regarded linemates. Belzile, a career AHLer, showed the kind of hustle and effort that would have surely helped some of the bigger names in the starting lineup, too.
Honourable Mention: Joel Armia (0g, 0a, -3, 18:14 TOI) recorded the highest TOI of all the forwards, but did not manage to get on the scoreboard. Some of his lost puck battles did result in goals, but the defensive gaffes that led to the goals were not his. And he did score the Habs’ only goal in the shootout.
Following the game, Montreal trimmed their training camp roster by three as Vejdemo, Fortin, and Mysak were all cut. Fortin was sent to Laval while Mysak will go to Hamilton of the OHL. Meanwhile, Vejdemo needs to clear waivers before joining the Rocket and will be placed on waivers on Saturday.