With the training camp roster being whittled down, the Habs’ lineup for the fourth preseason game was starting to get closer to what one might see during the regular season. Jonathan Drouin was in for his first game, and the second line saw Jake Evans centring Rem Pitlick and Joel Armia in an all-NHL line.
The defence corps included most of the top candidates, with Matheson, Barron, Guhle, Wideman, Leskinen, and Harris, and then Cayden Primeau and Kevin Poulin in goal.
Would that be enough to put away a Senators team that is aiming for a playoff season? Well, not quite, as the Habs were not only outscored but largely outplayed as well.
The first lead of the preseason
The game started off tentative, seeming with more misplays than plays, as has been the wont for most of the preseason games. Neither team was able to get in front of the opposing net to create a scoring threat in the first few minutes.
Roby Jarventie was called for hooking a speeding Jesse Ylonen at 2:18, giving the Canadiens a power-play opportunity. That didn’t last long, though, as Tyler Motte made a short-handed break and Matheson had to grab him in order to prevent a scoring chance.
After an uneventful four-on-four and a brief Ottawa man advantage, Armia broke free at the Habs blue and fed Mike Pezzetta, giving the latter a solid rush to the front of the net.
With just under seven minutes left, Armia took a hard slap shot from near the blue line, which was blocked by Ridly Greig, and Mike Matheson then did the same, again blocked by Greig. Greig was in some pain after the play and decided to cross-check Armia on his way to the change room for treatment.
But some three minutes later, things finally broke open as Nikita Zaitsev misplayed the puck at the Habs’ blue line, allowing Pitlick to streak off on a breakaway along the left-side boards. He spotted Evans nearly abreast of him, and passed the puck to his centre at the last moment, after pulling Mads Sogaard to his side. 1-0 for Montreal.
As the clock ticked toward the final minute of the period, Matheson lofted the puck in the air toward the net. Mark Kastelic thought he could glove it down but flubbed the catch. Evans was right there, though, and flipped it over Sogaard’s right shoulder to give the Habs a 2-0 lead.
“I think those were two pretty lucky bounces for those two goals,” said Evans. “But I’ll take them anyway!”
The numbers for the first period showed an 11-8 edge in shots for the Senators but a 2-0 lead for the Canadiens. xGF was 0.46-0.49 in Montreal’s favour.
Two is not enough, though
The second started much where the first did, and it wasn’t until past the five-minute mark that either team was able to exert any kind of sustained pressure.
Alex DeBrincat put the Senators within one at 7:41, though, with a wrist shot from the left-side boards into the top-left corner and past Primeau’s shoulder. That was Ottawa’s fourth shot of the period – against six for the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
Anthony “Laval Rocket” Richard broke loose just over a minute later and was able to get a shot, though not a dangerous one, on Sogaard.
Motte followed that up quickly with a breakaway of his own, but Primeau came up with his biggest save of the game to keep the Habs in front on the scoreboard.
Jarventie was called for a penalty again at 12:48, this time for slashing Harris in the offensive zone, giving the Canadiens another opportunity for a power play.
They managed but a single shot on the power play, but just as the door opened for Jarventie to return to the ice, Jesse Ylonen fed the puck to Pitlick, who was ready with a quick slap shot, beating Sogaard and restoring the two-goal lead.
DeBrincat was not happy with that and induced Kaiden Guhle into grabbing him behind Primeau’s net. Even though DeBrincat then hauled Guhle down, the Habs’ defenceman was the only one to head for the box.
The Senators’ power play took, uhh, not long at all. Claude Giroux won the faceoff from Evans, and Jake Sanderson tapped the puck to a waiting Shane Pinto, who snapped the puck into the top left corner to bring Ottawa within one again.
The shots were more lopsided in the period, with Ottawa holding a 17-8 edge there as well as the 2-1 record in goals. Second-period xGA, too, was strongly Ottawa’s, with a 1.28-to-0.50 edge.
The third would tell the truth
With Rafael Harvey-Pinard having been called for high-sticking at the final buzzer of the second period, the Canadiens started the period down a man.
DeBrincat was at it again early, with two shots in the power play, but Primeau swatted down the more dangerous one, a high wrister in the first minute of the man-advantage to protect the Habs’ lead.
The Senators controlled the play for the first half of the period, but without a single even-strength shot to show for it.
30 seconds after the midpoint of the period, though, Michael Pezzetta spotted Justin Barron free in the neutral zone and quickly passed him the puck. Barron skated in, but even with an Ottawa defender on his case, was able to lift the puck into the top-left corner, beating Antoine Bibeau, who had taken over the duties for the final period.
And then … just 20 seconds passed this time. Guhle missed a pass and fell down at the defensive blue line. Motte picked it up, fed Mathieu Joseph, and Primeau was victimized for a third goal, bringing the Senators back within one.
Matheson took his second penalty of the night at 14:32, clearing the puck over the glass to get called for a delay of game.
Giroux on the faceoff, and then Pinto, wait, haven’t we seen this movie before? This time it took Pinto a total of eight seconds to snap the puck behind Primeau, and tie up the game at 4-4.
Cole Reinhardt gave the Habs an opportunity to return the favour at 15:44, after a cross-check on Harvey-Pinard.
Ylonen had two good chances on the power play but shot the first one wide and Travis Hamonic blocked the second one.
With 54 seconds left on the clock, Pitlick pulled down Erik Brannstrom, who was streaking into the Habs’ zone, giving Pinto a chance to record a power-play hat trick. This time the penalty kill was more effective, though, and the Habs survived regulation time for the first time this preseason.
Shots were a dominant 10-2 for the Senators, Barron’s goal being one of the only two shots by the Canadiens. xGA was 1.01-0.29 in Ottawa’s favour.
It’s all over
A four-on-three power play is never easy to defend, and once Ottawa skated the puck in, the Habs were never able to get it out. 59 seconds in, DeBrincat snapped it past Primeau to win it 5-4 for the Senators.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Jake Evans (2 goals, 0 assists, 15:22 TOI) was playing hard all night, and even if there was luck involved in his second goal, he deserves the first star for his effort.
Second Star: Justin Barron (1 goal, 1 assist, 19:46 TOI) has been improving his play game by game, and was rewarded with two points in this one. He is starting to make a strong case for one of the RD spots in the regular season.
Third Star: Rem Pitlick (1 goal, 1 assist, 15:39 TOI) showed the same playmaking ability we saw last year after the Habs claimed him on waivers. The game was lost on the power play after a Pitlick penalty, but with no defencemen between Brannstrom and Primeau, the hook on Brannstrom was a very reasonable decision.
Honourable Mention: Jesse Ylonen (0 goals, 1 assist, 10:13 TOI) only saw light usage but his shot is indeed a weapon on the power play, even at the NHL level.