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The Habs returned to the ice on Wednesday as they visited the Ottawa Senators. After an offseason where the Senators made significant noise, many fans of the franchise thought they were getting close to the Maple Leafs and would be a playoff contender. Instead, they sat dead last in the division, four points behind the Habs prior to tonight’s contest.

To make matters worse, they had to face the Habs on this night without Tim Stuetzle who was injured (for real) in their last game and would miss at least a week. The Habs dominated the first and third periods but spent the second period in the penalty box as the Senators took advantage on their way to a 3-2 win over the Habs. 

The Habs got a body back for the contest as Jonathan Drouin centred the fourth line with Michael Pezzetta and Joel Armia. This meant that Rem Pitlick was a healthy scratch. The top line remained Nick Suzuki, Kirby Dach, and Cole Caufield who was in the lineup despite not finishing Monday’s contest. Jake Evans anchored the second line flanked by Juraj Slafkovsky and Josh Anderson while Christian Dvorak held down the middle of the third unit with Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman at his sides. The blue line remained unchanged as Kaiden Guhle and Joel Edmundson were the top pairing. Jordan Harris and Johnathan Kovacevic formed the second pair, while Arber Xhekaj and Chris Wideman rounded out the group. With a game also slated for Thursday night, Samuel Montembeault got the start in this one. 

The start of the game was all Montreal as they came out with speed while Ottawa was busy trying to play physical. This meant three good chances in the first five minutes for the Habs who saw Cam Talbot keep the Senators in it early.

The first chance saw Armia just miss a pass to Drouin in the slot before Evans sent in Anderson on a partial break. The third chance was a two-on-one for Caufield and Suzuki as the former opted for a shot on net in his return. The Habs were ahead in the shot department 6-1 after ten minutes though Alex DeBrincat did get a slot chance that he sailed high. 

Nine minutes into the period, Thomas Chabot went out of his way to deliver a punch to Caufield’s head which allowed the Canadiens to get the game’s first advantage. Drouin was back on the top power play unit while the group also featured Caufield, Suzuki, Dach, and Slafkovsky which led to two Caufield shots.

After the advantage, a good forecheck by Pezzetta got the Habs another chance as Armia saucered through a crowd to find Evans who once again stopped by Talbot. Xhekaj took a roughing penalty with 5:57 to play. The Habs were able to kill the chance despite a few good looks for DeBrincat and the period ended scoreless with Montreal ahead 10-6 in shots. 

The second period got off on the wrong foot as Shane Pinto opened the scoring just 88 seconds in. The Habs were simply sloppy on the shift as Kovacevic wasn’t physical which led to Pinto’s two first shots, and then he mishandled the puck which allowed a two-on-one as Pinto opted for the shot which was successful.

Things went from bad to worse when Wideman took a tripping penalty. Montembeault made a few good saves as the Habs got out of the jam.  

Ottawa would get another advantage at the 5:31 mark as Dach was called for slashing. Ten seconds later, Drake Batherson was celebrating the Sens’ second goal as Ottawa went across the blue paint with Edmundson not executing the right block of the pass.

Montreal’s penalty troubles continued as Slafkovsky clearly deked a defender with the puck closed in his hand. The ensuing advantage struck again as Suzuki and Evans both missed clears which sent the Habs scrambling. Brady Tkachuk finally tipped home a DeBrincat shot to make it 3-0. 

The second half of the period started with the Senators once again all over the Canadiens. Drouin was able to skate himself into a partial break. He tried to go five-hole that Talbot stopped though Parker Kelly did take a penalty trying to stop him.

Montreal’s second advantage saw some good puck movement, but once Ottawa cleared, it took the Habs way too long to get back into the offensive zone to really create scoring chances.

With 3:16 to play, an absolutely trash interference penalty was assessed to Dach who took out Tkachuk that initiated contact. Dach argued the call and earned himself an additional penalty. They finally were able to kill some penalties, though the Sens still had some time left to start the third. 

Montreal started the third with better legs as Talbot came up with a few good saves to start the period. Armia got a partial break and finally beat Talbot only to hit the post. The Senators stopped skating and started defending, but the Habs kept trying to complete blind drop passes so they essentially killed their own scoring chances early on.

However, 8:05 in, Evans won a race to a loose puck in the Ottawa zone and sent a blind pass to the slot. The pass found Dach who one-timed it home as the Canadiens finally got on the board. 

With a two-goal deficit and ten minutes to play, Xhekaj got a shot on net that created some chaos that his teammates were unable to finish. Austin Watson tripped Wideman which gave the Habs another power play. The advantage actually got some good looks as Slafkovsky, Caufield and Dach all got looks on the sequence.

With another delayed penalty incoming, Suzuki jumped over the boards and controlled play in the offensive zone. He found Dvorak at the faceoff circle who one-timed a shot top-shelf to make it 3-2 with 6:48 to play. 

The Habs continued to threaten until Ottawa got a puck bounce that got them a scoring chance. Harris covered his man and tried to lift his stick in front of the net. Apparently, that was a penalty on Harris as even St. Louis had some words for the officials after that soft call. While on the power play, Tkachuk tried to get cute and Xhekaj did not hesitate to shove the Sens captain to the ice as Tkachuk whined for a penalty call. Ottawa iced the puck twice in the final minute and really gave the Habs some great chances, but Talbot stood tall as the Sens hung on for the 3-2 victory. 

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars

1st Star – Kirby Dach 

When good players have good games, the puck just appears to find their sticks all night long. Oftentimes this season, that has been the case for Caufield and Suzuki. I would say that player was Dach on this night. Dach was all over the ice all night long. He got some chances, scored a goal, took some penalties, and just came within inches of getting the equalizer in the final moments. I have to say I’m not a big fan of trying him in Suzuki’s spot on the power play, but that’s a coaching decision, not one made by the player who had himself a game. 

Stats: 1 goal, +1, 6 PIMS, 2 shots, 18:01 T.O.I. 

2nd Star – Christian Dvorak 

Dvorak was invisible through two periods before waking up in the third. He’s been strong in his passing game lately, but tonight he was the shooter as he released three to four really good one-timers in the third period, one of which being the goal that he scored, and it was a pretty goal.  

Stats: 1 goal, +1, 3 shots, 17:57 T.O.I. 

3rd Star – Joel Armia 

Armia has had two excellent games where the scoring chances have been there. One has to feel that once he gets his first, the floodgates might open. Then again, they’ll likely open for a four-point game sending him to another 10-game slumber. Regardless, a second really strong game for Armia. Hopefully some contending teams are watching, paying attention, and maybe even taking notes for the trade deadline? OK, that might be wishful thinking. 

Stats: 1 shot, 13:30 T.O.I. 

Honourable Mention – Jonathan Drouin 

While I have to confess that I am not a Drouin fan, I felt like he skated hard, made himself an option on the breakout, and got himself in traffic. He was willing to shoot and was passing the puck well to various sources on the power play. The only knock I had on this night was his infuriating blind back passes in zone entry. Other than that, a successful return for Drouin. 

Stats: 2 shots, 12:39 T.O.I.