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The Habs were back in action on Tuesday after their fifth preseason loss. The Ottawa Senators were the visiting team at the Bell Centre, and they once again arrived with a much more NHL-ready squad. The Habs gave Juraj Slafkovsky a big opportunity after his solid effort last night as he dressed on the top line with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, the latter of which was making his preseason debut. Jake Evans centred Rem Pitlick and Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Owen Beck centred Emil Heineman and Joel Armia (both of whom left the game early with injuries), while Brandon Gignac centred Michael Pezzetta and Jesse Ylonen. The blue line featured Kaiden Guhle with David Savard, Corey Schueneman with Jordan Harris, and Chris Wideman with Arber Xhekaj. Sam Montembeault was the starter in the blue paint, with Cayden Primeau backing up. 

The start of the game was tentative for both teams until Savard took a weak cross-checking minor. Ottawa was power play-dependent to beat the Canadiens last week, and the same unit was at it again as Claude Giroux froze the defenders before going cross-ice to Alex DeBrincat who made no mistake in opening the scoring.

Other than the goal, play was extremely tentative and disjointed on both sides which made it a rather tedious opening frame. With seven minutes to play, Mark Kastelic and Xhekaj fought, and it was determined that Kastelic got a roughing call before the fight. The aimless advantage for Montreal was interrupted by a cross-checking festival that sent Harvey-Pinard and Thomas Chabot to the box as the rest of the period was about as exciting as watching paint dry. 

The second period wasn’t much better until Giroux scored at the 5:52 mark that really opened the floodgates. Giroux’s goal was a brilliant pass by DeBrincat as everyone was covered until Slafkovsky stopped skating and let Giroux get away from him to open the awesome cross-ice pass by DeBrincat.

Two and a half minutes later, Suzuki dangled a few defenders before he found Armia in the high slot who fired home a wrister off the post and in to make it 2-1. 44 seconds later, Savard joined the rush and Evans found the streaking defender who tipped home the pass to even the score with 10:56 left to play. 

The positivity was short-lived as two minutes later, Tyler Motte shot from the top of the zone fooled Montembeault as Schueneman was standing in front of his netminder covering no one.

Play opened up considerably as both teams got away with some infractions which allowed scoring chances as both Anton Forsberg and Montembeault had their best moments of the game in this stretch.

The Sens were finally able to break through and extend their lead with a minute to play as Shane Pinto was able to take a nothing play and create as he used his quick release to fool both Evans and Montembeault. Two-goal lead restored in what looked like a mountain for the Canadiens to overcome in the third. 

With a two-goal deficit, Montreal should have come out with far more intensity than they did. They were even helped by the Senators’ captain as Brady Tkachuk took an interference penalty on Guhle. Beck was by far the most dangerous as the Habs squandered an important opportunity (Good for Beck, not good for the home side.) Evans then got a chance as he got a partial break, but he was unable to score before hitting the end boards hard though he would stay in the game. 

The last ten minutes were more of the same as the Canadiens got more shots on net but very little in terms of scoring chances. They simply were not willing to fight through and attack the middle of the ice.

They once again got some help as Chabot tripped Gignac. This time, Suzuki and Caufield connected as Suzuki fired a cross-ice pass and Caufield received it and released his own rocket to the top of the net to make it 4-3.

However, a minute later, Guhle mishandled a pass that sent Drake Batherson and Tkachuk on a 2-on-0 as they beat Montembeault to make it 5-3.  

28 seconds later, a good forecheck by Pezzetta got the puck back to Xhekaj who fired a wrister that was deflected off Mathieu Joseph’s glove to get the score to 5-4. Unfortunately, the Habs could not muster another scoring chance in the final two minutes to make the end of the game a bit more interesting as they lost once again, once again by a 5-4 score to the Senators. 

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars

1st Star – Jake Evans 

Evans will forever be a player on the outside looking in as he lacks pure skill at the NHL level. Evans will forever be a player fans root for as his effort level is through the roof as he always places himself in a position to succeed, too often even at the detriment of his own safety. This night was no different as his effort was a standout in a game where many veterans somewhat mailed it in. Evans made some plays to create scoring chances all night long. 

Stats: 1 assist, -1, 3 shots, 14:28 T.O.I. 

2nd Star – Cole Caufield 

This is what a good game for Caufield looks like. He doesn’t get in trouble defensively, he’s electric around the puck when he gets it on the offensive side of centre ice, and he buries when he gets his chances. It’s not a stand-out effort every shift and he won’t necessarily be the guy creating chances for linemates all the time (though he can show this at times too) and that’s ok. Tonight, he scored when the team needed him to and that brought the game within reach. Too bad they couldn’t get another shot off his stick in the final minutes. 

Stats: 1 goal, 2 shots, 22:10 T.O.I. 

3rd Star – Nick Suzuki 

The new captain was playing in his first game of the season, and he still managed to be one of the better Habs. Just like Beck, I’m not sure that’s a great omen for guys legitimately trying to make the team, most notably on the blue line. Suzuki showed some dangles and never really got caught defensively despite playing against a full NHL roster in his first game. 

Stats: 2 assists, 2 shots, 22:15 T.O.I. 

Honourable Mention – Owen Beck 

With a list of players vying to make this team out of camp, the player who signed a contract today and was returned to the OHL after the game was one of the standouts? That’s not a great look for many including Harvey-Pinard, Ylonen, Harris, Xhekaj, and Schueneman. Beck looked good once again, this time in a more limited role as some of the regulars start getting their reps in.

Stats: -1, 2 shots, 13:08 T.O.I.