Saturday’s contest against Ottawa was the second game after Ben Chiarot was sent to Florida for futures, further weakening the Habs’ defensive corps. However, Joel Edmundson is back, as was Corey Schueneman, the unexpected force on defence and for one night at least, their back end was strong. Both teams, of course, are mired in the lottery zone of the overall standings.
By the final score, 5-1 for the Canadiens, it looked very much like a cakewalk, but the Senators had plenty of opportunities to score and take the game away from the bleu, blanc, et rouge, but Jake Allen stood tall in his second game back from injury, making 29 saves on 30 shots to give the Habs their biggest win of the season.
The Habs Score First, Again
The game started tentatively, but with the Senators holding a definitive edge in play and possession. It was after the six-minute mark before the Habs were able to exert any significant pressure on Ottawa.
In this case, it was the Artturi Lehkonen-Rem Pitlick-Joel Armia unit that first threatened. After Lehkonen won a faceoff against Tim Stutzle, Chris Wideman took a shot from the point that was blocked, Schueneman followed with another, saved by Filip Gustavsson, Armia took another shot that was blocked, and finally, Schueneman took another one, again blocked by the Ottawa defence.
At 7:34, Jeff Petry was called for tripping former Hab Victor Mete for the first man advantage of the game, this one for the Senators. Nick Suzuki had a chance on a shorthanded breakaway, but Mete blocked his shot, and then immediately after, Connor Brown took a shot on Jake Allen but was turned away.
The Canadiens got their chance at the 13:50 mark when Tyler Ennis was called for slashing Schueneman. The Habs’ power play looked organized, with shots by Jeff Petry and Armia, and others were wide of the net or blocked. However, a power play that looks good is nice but it’s still meaningless if you can’t score.
But once the penalty expired, things started to happen. Allen made another save on Brown and then the Habs went on the attack, as Schueneman carried the puck to the back of the Senators’ net. Lehkonen made the key play as he skated back toward the blue line with the puck and then dropped it behind him for Evans, who was streaking in, fresh from a line change. Evans waited just long enough, and then lifted the puck into the top right corner, above Gustavsson’s glove at 16:32.
And then, just 29 more seconds into the period, Petry was sent to the sin bin for hooking. The Senators put on their top power play unit, which controlled the play in the Habs’ zone. Worse, Alexander Romanov’s stick broke, and while Christian Dvorak handed him his own, the penalty kill was severely handicapped for the better part of a minute.
So, at 18:51, Josh Norris took a pass from Colin White and sent it past Allen to tie up the game at one apiece.
The first period ended with a 13-10 Ottawa shot advantage and a 7-3 edge in high-danger scoring chances. Coming out of that with a 1-1 tie was definitely a positive for the Habs.
Two Chances, Three Goals
The second period started even better than the first, as Evans created an excellent play, flipping the puck from the Habs’ blueline to Michael Pezzetta on the left, near the Senators’ blueline. Pezzetta broke in, attracting both Senators’ defencemen, and then sent the puck to the centre to Paul Byron, who was skating toward the net with nary a defender in sight.
Byron then calmly lifted the puck over Gustavsson’s trapper to send the Habs into a 2-1 lead, with just 2:42 on the clock in the second period.
White and Norris had a two-on-one break a minute and a half later but could not get a shot away, but Artem Zub one-timed a dangerous-looking shot at 3:14. Allen handled it with ease, although it took some time for him to locate the puck in his equipment after the fact.
Norris won the ensuing faceoff from Suzuki, but Edmundson seized the puck and sent it forward along the boards to Cole Caufield, who was at full speed in the neutral zone.
Caufield broke into the Ottawa zone, curving toward the net. As Nikita Zaitsev slid over to prevent a pass to Josh Anderson on the left side, Caufield calmly waited, and then lifted the puck over Zaitsev and into the top corner of the net. 3-1 for the Habs, then just 1:41 after the Byron marker.
Chris Wideman lost his stick a minute later, giving Adam Gaudette a chance to bring the Senators within one, but Pitlick cleared the puck before any damage could be done.
By this time, the Senators were pressing again, and just after the halfway point, the Brady Tkachuk line was hemming the Habs in their own zone. Edmundson shook Tkachuk up with a big hit, but it did not shake up the Senators as a team.
With eight minutes remaining, the Senators broke in on a three-on-one break, and, with Petry sliding to block other pass options, Brown sent the puck to Stutzle in front of the net. Allen foiled Stutzle’s tip-in attempt, though, keeping the Habs at a two-goal advantage.
Tkachuk’s frustration was starting to show, and at 18:02, he was called for holding on Pitlick. Wideman and Norris picked up matching unsportsmanlike penalties a minute later, and then the Habs’ second power play unit showed that they could play, too.
Schueneman took a shot from the point, a little bit less than waist-high. Gustavsson appeared to have his eye on it, but Joel Armia was well-positioned in front of the net, and the big Finn tipped the puck into the bottom right corner of the net to put the Habs three goals up with just 33 seconds remaining in the second period.
The final tally for the period stood at 11-10 shots for Ottawa, and a wider yet 7-2 advantage in high-danger chances — but a 3-0 margin for the Habs in pucks placed behind opposing goaltenders.
Just Hang in There for the Third
With a 4-1 lead for the Habs and Allen solid in goal, the urgency appeared to have gone out of both teams’ games in the third.
Suzuki did make a nice pass to Caufield before the five-minute mark, Schueneman created some good opportunities, and Lehkonen set up Armia again, but nothing came of these plays.
Until, that is, the Suzuki line had the Senators hemmed in in their own zone, and the Habs took the opportunity to change their defencemen. Suzuki saw Brett Kulak skating in and quickly connected him with the puck as the defender weaved through the Senators’ players and bore in on the net. A quick flip of the puck, and it was in the top of the net and out of the reach of Gustavsson at 8:14, to seal the Habs’ victory at 5-1.
Ottawa did have a last-gasp chance to make the score more respectable, as Tkachuk found himself all alone in front of the Habs net at 18:12, with the puck on his stick. However, Allen was his match, and his trapper was faster than the puck as he snatched the puck to record the final save of the game.
The shots in the relatively quiet third period were 7-6 for the Habs, but the high-danger chances favoured Ottawa once again, though this time only by a 3-2 margin.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Jake Allen (30 shots, 29 saves, 0.967 save percentage) was outstanding, keeping the Habs in the game, especially in the early going, and giving the team the confidence it needed to take a convincing win.
Second Star: Jake Evans (1g, 1a, 1 shot, +2, 12:23 TOI) made the most of his ice time. Even more than his goal, the seeing-eye pass to Pezzetta for the second goal was spectacular.
Third Star: Joel Armia (1g, 0a, 6 shots, +0, 13:31 TOI) is finally starting to show the value that former GM Marc Bergevin saw in him. Even when playing against the Stutzle line, the Armia-Dvorak-Lehkonen unit was capable, and it was the only line that managed to tie their opposition in terms of high-danger chances at five-on-five.
Honourable Mention: Brett Kulak (1g, 0a, 2 shots, +1, 20:02 TOI) has been denigrated over the past few seasons, but he, too, is finding a new strength playing for head coach Martin St Louis. Kent Hughes has now come out saying that he is not trying to trade Kulak away, and this kind of play will only strengthen Kulak’s case for a spot in the defence corps.