Saturday’s contest in Ottawa was to be the first meeting of the Canadiens and the Senators this season, apart from the preseason. Not only that, it would be Andrew Hammond’s first return to Ottawa after the 2016-17 season. On the other side, Victor Mete would make another appearance against his longtime team — the Habs on a current league-high four-game winning streak.
As far-fetched as it would have seemed just a month ago, the Habs left town with the streak extended to five games, riding scoring by Artturi Lehkonen and a strong game by Hammond.
Somebody Needs to Score First
The start of the first period was by all measures tentative, and the Habs had few serious opportunities to do anything until the five-minute mark.
At that point, Laurent Dauphin and Mike Hoffman broke through, and Dauphin, with with Hoffman on his right, fed the puck to the sniper as they moved past the hashmarks. A chance, then, but Matt Murray was there, a wall to prevent any real scoring opportunity.
After that, the Habs had some pressure, then the Sens, but neither was able to press hard enough to make a real impression.
At about 16:20, though, the Senators made a three-on-two break, but it was nothing doing: Nick Paul got the pass to Parker Kelly, but Hammond was ready for the shot, and made an easy butterfly save on it.
No more than 20 seconds later, the Habs had their own chance, as Rem Pitlick got a pass over to Lehkonen on the left side of the net, but Murray made a sprawling pad save to keep the puck out of the net.
The Evans line wasn’t done yet, though, and at 16:47 Murray gave up a rebound on Ben Chiarot’s slapshot, and Lehkonen was ready, this time on the right side of Murray, and swatted the puck into the net for his eighth goal of the season and a 1-0 lead for the Habs.
The goal energized the Senators, though, rather than the Canadiens. In the remaining three minutes and change, the Sens recorded ten shot attempts, but with good shot-blocking and a couple of key saves by Hammond, the Habs left the ice for the first intermission still holding a 1-0 lead.
The shots were tied at nine each in the period, but the Senators held a 5-3 edge in high-danger scoring chances.
Two Minutes Is Enough
The second period started off on the wrong foot as Chiarot was sent to the box only 31 seconds into the period for tripping Tim Stutzle.
52 seconds into the penalty, the Habs paid the price for that. It was not the usual power play formation, but, rather, a quick, dynamic zone entry. Mete retrieved the puck from behind the Ottawa net, handed it off to Connor Brown in the neutral ice, with Brown making a fully-controlled zone entry and maintaining possession of the puck as he went to wrap around the goal.
Instead of completing the wraparound, Brown spotted Colin White skating across the net, not covered by anyone in a white sweater. A clean pass to White, and the latter one-timed it behind him and to the left of Hammond to tie up the game at one apiece.
Hoffman had another chance at a go-ahead goal at 3:15, as Dauphin gave him another clean pass — and he was foiled again, as Murray made a pad save on his shot.
The Habs got their first power play opportunity at 7:15, as Gallagher drew an interference penalty on Artem Zub. They never really got a chance to set up for that, though, as Gallagher decided to join Zub in the box just 31 seconds later, after tripping Austin Watson.
In the ensuing four-on-four, Nick Suzuki made a nice pass to Chiarot from the front of the net, but the big defenceman’s shot went wide.
Evans, too, had an opportunity just after the midway mark, but Murray got his pad out again and made the save.
At 13:19, it was the Dauphin and Hoffman show once again, as Dauphin made another good pass to the veteran sniper, but once again Murray was ready and stopped Hoffman’s wrister.
Only a minute later, though, it was the checking line back in action. Rem Pitlick got the puck to Evans on the left-side boards, but Evans’ shot on net hit an Ottawa player’s stick and was redirected to between the faceoff circles. Lehkonen, in a defensive position near the line, was paying attention, and one-timed a slapshot from near the hashmarks to beat Murray high on the glove side, making it a 2-1 game in the Habs’ favour.
With just 2:44 remaining in the period, Adam Gaudette was called for hooking Corey Schueneman, sending him to the sin bin for most of the rest of the period. On the power play, Gallagher was deathly intent on scoring, and got several whacks at a rebound from a hard Hoffman wrister, but could not jam the puck past Murray.
In the dying seconds of the period, Evans was assessed a tripping call for bringing down Brady Tkachuk, as the Senators were hemming in the Habs in their own zone. Only 23 seconds remained, though, and it wasn’t enough to put the puck in the net. That was in large part thanks to Dauphin blocking two dangerous-looking shots at the Habs’ goal, however.
The Habs held a 13-11 edge in shots in the period, but the high-danger chances were tied at five each.
Three More Power Plays
Gallagher was called for his second minor penalty of the game at 4:11 of the third period, this time against Mete.
The Senators had a dangerous chance at the halfway point of the power play, as Tyler Ennis made a successful controlled zone entry, quickly followed by a pair of tiki-taka style passes, first to Brown and then to White. White attempted to jam the puck in next to the post, but Hammond was able to block the attempt with his pad.
Gallagher made another attempt at forcing the puck past Murray a little before he midway mark of the period, trying to tuck it under the Ottawa goalie, and scrambling the Ottawa defenders who rapidly moved him into the end boards in a full-fledged rugby scrum.
Gallagher had a less Gallagher-like scoring chance at the 11-minute mark, as Evans, near the front of the Ottawa net, spotted Gallagher coming into the zone on a line change. The latter got a slap shot off quickly, but Murray had his A-game on in this one, and had little trouble blocking the shot.
The outcome of the shot, though, was a power play, as Zub flipped the puck over the glass to relieve the Habs’ pressure, sending him off at 11:10 to contemplate his mistake for two minutes or so.
The only scoring opportunity, though, was from a Chiarot giveaway in the Montreal zone, giving the puck to Brown less than a metre away from Hammond. He was ready with his pad, though, and Brown had nothing to shoot at.
At the end of the power play, then, the Senators were left with less than seven minutes to tie the game. And the Canadiens with less than seven minutes to hang onto the lead and take a fifth consecutive win.
The Habs did not go into rope-a-dope mode, though, but played solid defensive hockey. The Sens were unable to record a single shot attempt in the next three and a half minutes — at which point Tkachuk made things easier by hauling down Josh Anderson, to give the Habs a man advantage with just 3:11 remaining on the clock.
The two minutes did not see a “power play” as such, but, rather, an exercise in puck control, to ensure that they did not give up a high-danger chance in the dying minutes of the game.
Stutzle did manage a shot on Hammond with 50 seconds remaining, but that was the only Ottawa shot in the later stages of the period as the Habs extended their winning streak to five games for the first time in years.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Artturi Lehkonen (2g, 0a, 3 shots, +2, 16:04 TOI) may have been lucky on his second goal, but it was an opportunistic shot that beat Murray. The checking line generated chances throughout the game, though, and going up against Stutzle’s unit is never easy.
Second Star: Andrew Hammond (27 shots, 26 saves, 0.963 save percentage) lived up to his Hamburglar reputation and played a strong game in his triumphant return to Ottawa, after an extended wandering in the wilderness of the AHL.
Third Star: Ben Chiarot (0g, 1a, 2 shots, 24:09 TOI) played massive minutes with the depleted Montreal defence corps. He was in the box for the Ottawa goal but played another solid game, with an assist and a team-best xGF% of 86.33 and a 4-1 edge in high-danger scoring chances.
Honourable mention: Mike Hoffman (0g, 0a, 3 shots, 16:15 TOI) was repeatedly robbed by Murray as Dauphin gave him opportunities near the Ottawa goal.