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For the third time in four games, the Habs took on the Senators in preseason action, this time in Gander, Newfoundland.  The end result was slightly different from their first two meetings; the score was 4-3 Ottawa this time instead of 5-4.

Once again, there were plenty of lineup shuffles by the Canadiens.  Cayden Primeau got the start in goal while the team lined up as follows:

Pitlick – Monahan – Caufield
Hoffman – Dach – Gallagher
Slafkovsky – Dvorak – Anderson
Pezzetta – Evans – Dadonov

Leskinen – Savard
Guhle – Barron
Xhekaj – Bowey

Things got off to about the worst start possible for Montreal.  On the opening shift, Rem Pitlick attempted a cross-ice pass at the defensive blueline.  It landed on the stick of Alex DeBrincat who quickly fed it ahead to Drake Batherson and the winger went five-hole on Primeau to give Ottawa the early lead.

The Habs got the first power play of the game when Shane Pinto was sent off for cross-checking.  Kirby Dach made a great move to drive the net with speed but his pass for Dvorak didn’t connect as intended.  Just after the power play ended, David Savard was able to attack the middle of the ice and sent a quick feed off to Michael Pezzetta but his shot hit the post.

That miss stung a bit more when on the next shift, DeBrincat’s tip pass went right to Tim Stutzle with speed, creating a two-on-one.  He sent it left to Brady Tkachuk who fired it short-side past Primeau to double the lead.  However, the young netminder stood tall 30 seconds later when Josh Norris got a pass in the slot and was in alone.  For Montreal’s defenders’ sake, they should be happy that there were no stats for this game (as it’s not an NHL rink, the usual stats aren’t available) as the giveaway total would have been quite high otherwise.

The Habs were able to kill off a Madison Bowey cross-checking penalty midway through the period and not long after it expired, they benefitted from a giveaway from the Sens.  Ottawa turned it over as they were exiting the zone with the puck going to Kaiden Guhle.  His wrister from the point through a screen beat Anton Forsberg to get Montreal on the board.

Each team traded power plays over the next few minutes.  Arber Xhekaj was called for roughing on Josh Norris while Erik Brannstrom cross-checked Juraj Slafkovsky.  Ottawa had the best chance of the four-minute stretch when they were down shorthanded as a giveaway from Otto Leskinen led to a two-on-one.  Tyler Motte set up Norris but Primeau got across to make the stop.

He faced yet another two-on-one late in the period when Claude Giroux went in with Mathieu Joseph but the latter’s one-timer was denied.  Primeau finished the period strong to help keep the deficit at one with Ottawa holding a 13-7 edge in shots.

The penalty parade continued in the second when Artem Zub was called for interference on Dach on the opening shift of the period.  Brendan Gallagher made his presence felt on the man advantage.  He was stopped in close on a backhander and had two one-timers as well.  He didn’t score but it was a decent-looking power play.

A couple of minutes later, Slafkovsky got behind Zub to draw a hooking call, sending the Habs back to the power play.  This time, Gallagher was able to get in on a goal.  Travis Hamonic had a brutal giveaway that gave Gallagher the puck at the front of the net, he slid it over to Kirby Dach who had a tap-in to tie the game.

Montreal had a good chance to take the lead two minutes after that when Cole Caufield went in on a two-on-one with Pitlick but Pitlick’s one-timer was stopped.  On the next shift, Xhekaj had his shot blocked and then tripped Joseph in transition, sending Ottawa back to the man advantage.  They had some pressure late but couldn’t restore the lead just yet.

However, just before the 12-minute mark of the frame, Joseph set up Stutzle who was in alone on Primeau.  Guhle hooked him – he didn’t have much of a choice as he was put in a bad situation – and that resulted in a penalty shot.  Stutzle fired one just past Primeau’s pad to restore the lead for the Senators.

The Habs got one last power play chance in the period when Parker Kelly tripped Bowey.  Leskinen made a nice pass to Gallagher from his own end that gave the veteran a partial break but he was stopped once again.  Ottawa carried their one-goal lead to the room while Montreal outshot them 14-12 in the frame.

Before the three-minute mark of the third, Slafkovsky had some good puck possession behind Ottawa’s net and eventually sent it out front to Jake Evans but Forsberg was square to the shot to make the save.  Montreal soon got another power play opportunity when Tkachuk went off for a faceoff violation but they couldn’t get anything going.

Near the eight-minute mark, the Habs had a chance off a good Sean Monahan pass but they couldn’t connect.  That proved costly as Ottawa broke out in transition, gaining the offensive zone with ease.  DeBrincat sent a cross-ice feed for Giroux who beat Primeau with a shot from the faceoff circle to restore the two-goal advantage.

That was short-lived, however, as barely a minute later, Josh Anderson sent a weak backhander toward the net.  He got a lucky bounce as it hit Joseph’s skate and beat Forsberg.  Unfortunately for the Habs, they couldn’t muster up much after that.

To make matters worse, Anderson took a double-minor for high-sticking Stutzle with 3:40 left in the game, meaning that the Canadiens would have to pull off the comeback down a skater.  It didn’t happen.  Ottawa hit three posts on the man advantage and controlled the puck for so long that Primeau couldn’t be pulled until about 15 seconds left.  Evgenii Dadonov sent a good pass in front for Guhle who was charging the net but his redirect went just wide to finish the game.  The shots in the final frame were 7-2 for the Sens.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Brendan Gallagher – He didn’t score but he looked like the spark plug that he was a few years ago.  I’ve been critical of having him on the power play (especially with bigger players to play the net-front role) but he was Montreal’s best player on the man advantage by a long shot in this one.

Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 4 shots

2nd Star: Kaiden Guhle – A lot of the players vying for one of those last defensive spots didn’t help their cause in this game.  Guhle was the exception.  He played a largely steady game and at a time when many of the young defenders were anything but, Guhle’s consistency really stood out in a big way.

Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 1 shot

3rd Star: Kirby Dach – I sense this is something we’re going to have to get used to but there were some moments where Dach really stood out and made his presence felt while there were others when you wondered if he had been on the ice for the last ten minutes.  The good outweighed the bad in this one and I liked some of his play around the crease, in particular.

Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 3 shots

Honourable Mention: Juraj Slafkovsky – Let’s talk about the youngster a little.  Like Dach, there were some promising moments mixed in with some consecutive shifts of nothing but I liked his board play.  He was able to slow things down at times, knowing he was strong enough that he could outmuscle his opponent to keep possession and try to make the right play at the right time.  Not many on this team have that particular skill and while it will take some time to properly hone it, it was an encouraging sight.

Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 1 shot