The Habs tried to place the last two losses that can only be described as unorthodox in the rear-view mirror as they hosted the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. The game was delayed for a short presentation and a lengthy and deserved standing ovation for Guy Carbonneau, the newest member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
No lineup changes were made despite the two straight losses, but Victor Mete returned with Jeff Petry as his partner, which meant Shea Weber was playing with Ben Chiarot. The lack of changes also meant that Carey Price was playing in this second game of a back-to-back, a rather unusual sight. He was facing Craig Anderson as expected.
The game itself was an entertaining contest even if it was sloppy at times for both teams. The sloppiness allowed the talent of many younger players with the Habs to shine in this contest. In the end, Montreal couldn’t score enough in a first half that they dominated. The result was a 2-1 loss in overtime as they let another point slip against a bottom team in the league.
It was a rough start for the Habs as Mete was caught for a four-minute high-stick in the opening minute of the game. Despite this unfortunate turn of events, it was Nate Thompson who almost jumped on a Petry rebound to open the scoring as the best chance of the extended man-advantage. Back at even strength, Charles Hudon got the best chance of the opening ten minutes as he snuck in behind the Ottawa defenders and smacked a shot off the outside of the post as it beat Anderson but stayed out.
The second half of the opening period started with the teams trading chances as Jesperi Kotkaniemi had a nice zone entry that resulted in Artturi Lehkonen missing an empty net. In the following minute, an ill-advised pass by Phillip Danault allowed a two-on-one that Chiarot was able to break-up.
A minute later, Cale Fleury absolutely rocked Vladislav Namestnikov with a clean hit that quieted what was becoming a spirited affair between the two teams. Namestnikov did not return to the game.
Noteworthy were strong opening frames for Hudon and Kotkaniemi, the latter a good sign considering his recent struggles. With 50 seconds to play, another scramble in the Ottawa zone resulted in the Habs first power play of the evening.
The Habs started the second with a minute left on the man advantage and they made it count. With Petry, Nick Suzuki, Brendan Gallagher, Danault and Tomas Tatar on the ice, it was Suzuki who controlled the power play and made it dangerous. A point shot from Petry caused a scramble and Suzuki came in and welcomed a rebound to place into an empty cage to open the scoring.
The Habs continued to dominate play but the Sens started to push back as the midway point of the game arrived. With Tyler Ennis and Anthony Duclair buzzing, an Ennis shot was tipped by Jean-Gabriel Pageau and just like that, a 21-9 shot advantage meant nothing as the score was tied at one as the game reached its median.
Pageau’s 13th of the season (no typo) completely baffled the Canadiens as a game they had completely dominated was suddenly a hot potato. Passes were a foot off, players were falling all over the ice, and defensive coverage was not adequate. Luckily for the Habs, Price stood tall as the Senators continued to pepper Price as they closed the gap in shot difference to 25-14 by the end of the period that remained even, promising an entertaining final frame.
The opening shift of the third was an extended one for the Danault line as they were completely hemmed into the defensive zone to start the period on the wrong foot. The Senators dominated the first five minutes but the Habs were able to hang on before taking over for the rest of the first half of the period as Mete really stood out and created some scoring chances for himself and his teammates. Right before the ten-minute mark, Brett Kulak cleared the puck into the stands from the defensive zone for a penalty.
The Sens power play to start the last ten minutes of play had a few good looks but Price made important stops to keep the game even.
Both teams exchanged a few good scoring chances after the man advantage, but really the last eight minutes was played cautiously by both teams as gaining the loser point was clearly the priority for both teams down the stretch.
As such, the game made it to overtime, but it didn’t last long. Gallagher got a brilliant scoring chance in the first minute but was stopped by a brilliant Anderson glove save. On the next faceoff, Tatar lost his man as Brady Tkachuk broke free and came in on a breakaway where he beat Price five-hole to end the game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Nick Suzuki
Suzuki has quickly risen through the ranks for coach Claude Julien. He has successfully bumped Kotkaniemi down the priority chart, he has forced Max Domi to the wing, he is playing important powerplay minutes, and he is playing important penalty kill time when necessary too. On this night, he was one of the most dangerous forwards, and he scored the team’s power play marker. Not bad for a rookie, one who now sits second in the NHL for goals by rookies (tied with Kaapo Kakko).
Stats: 1 goal, -1, 1 shot, 2 hits, 17:12 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
It has been an awful long time since it was possible to feature Kotkaniemi in this section. Kotkaniemi played the game with physicality, speed, and pace, and created more scoring chances in this game than he has over his last five games combined. Playing with Lehkonen and Jordan Weal means that creating those chances won’t always mean putting points up on the board, but Suzuki serves as an example that Kotkaniemi CAN force the hand of management to place him in a better position with more games that look like tonight’s effort.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/), 2 shots, 3 hits, 14:04 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Charles Hudon
Hudon has been recalled and is playing like a player who wants nothing to do with clearing waivers once Drouin and Byron are healthy. Good for him because Ryan Poehling, Alex Belzile, and Lukas Vejdemo were all hoping to be the next to get the call. So long as this Hudon 2.0 keeps his work ethic up and his feet moving, he’ll be in the NHL to stay, in Montreal or elsewhere. He was sent back after the game to temporarily stop his waiver clock but he’ll likely be recalled late on Friday.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 9:59 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Cale Fleury
Fleury has a few moments every game where his age and lack of experience at the pro level is evident. He makes up for it with a long list of plays over the course of the game that shows the promise that he holds. Once he can eliminate the brain cramps from his game, he is a defender that makes a solid first pass, plays well without the puck in his own zone, has a hard shot, and delivers Emelin-like body checks. One such check sent Namestnikov to the dressing room (hopefully he’s ok), and Fleury also missed a partial breakaway. He was noticeable all night long.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 2 hits, 13:04 T.O.I.