The Canadiens headed to Ottawa on Saturday for the first half of a home-and-home series, taking on the Senators, who were coming off two straight wins. The Habs, on the other hand, dipped into the OHL to replenish their depleted roster as they had Owen Beck playing his first NHL game on an emergency recall basis.
Given that, the result should not have been a shock to anyone, although the final scoreboard numbers looked rather starker than the progress of the play on the ice.
First goal decides?
Claude Giroux flipped the puck high over to Alex DeBrincat just over a minute into the period, for what looked to be the game’s first serious scoring chance. However, Mike Matheson decided to play the man instead of the puck, and knocked DeBrincat down, with both players sliding (slowly) into Samuel Montembeault and the Montreal net.
Nick Suzuki created a scoring chance three and a half minutes in, as he passed the puck over to Josh Anderson on a two-man rush, but Anton Forsberg made the first of many strong saves in the Ottawa net.
At eight minutes, it was the much-maligned Dadonov-Hoffman pairing at it: Dadonov made a controlled zone entry on the left-side boards, lost the puck in a board battle – and then snatched it back to regain possession. A quick pass to the centre of the zone, and Mike Hoffman drove a one-timer into the net, only for Forsberg to close the five-hole just in time. Kirby Dach had a follow-up chance after the ensuing faceoff, trying to jam the puck past Forsberg’s pads, but to no avail, the second shot going behind the goalie but wide of the net.
Tim Stutzle had a break into the Montreal zone just after the midway point, too, taking a shot on the short side, but Montembeault turned him away.
Dadonov saw another opportunity with four minutes remaining, as Dach broke in, waiting, before passing it to Dadonov for a quick shot. Forsberg saw it coming, though, and made another strong save.
Arber Xhekaj missed a play with a minute to go, losing the puck to Tyler Motte, who broke in. Xhekaj was able to absolve himself, though, tapping Motte’s stick enough to prevent a shot but not so hard as to attract a penalty. On the ensuing play, Matheson was able to get a chance, too, but Forsberg snatched the shot and stopped the play, without a rebound to be had.
The first period saw the Habs leading the shots 8-6, but decisively behind on the high-danger shots, with six to Ottawa and only three to Montreal.
Two, two, two
Twenty-two seconds into the second period, the mutual shutout pact was shattered, as DeBrincat and Ridly Greig broke out of the Ottawa zone. As Xhekaj fell down, David Savard was the only defender left. Savard blocked the pass to Greig, but DeBrincat, the sniper that he is, found some empty net on the far side, sending the puck above Montembeault’s blocker to give the Senators the first lead of the game.
Hoffman was sent off for slashing at 4:17, giving the Senators the first power play of the game. Suzuki and Anderson combined for a short-handed one-timer opportunity early, but Forsberg ensured it remained just a scoring chance, not a goal. And in the aftermath of that opportunity, Brady Tkachuk headed out for a quick break, with Matheson back to block the pass. The outcome of the Ottawa power play was a single shot on goal.
Apparently, that was such a good result that the Habs decided to do this again, as Dach was called for tripping just a second after the Hoffman penalty expired, at 6:18. This time it was the Rocket Line forwards combining for the early forecheck and Belzile had a great scoring opportunity at the left corner of the Ottawa net.
1:40 into the penalty, though, the Senators had the power play clicking, and as Greig got the puck at the bottom of the left circle, he sent the puck through and behind the net-front traffic, finding Giroux on the right side of the net. Giroux had no trouble, as Montembeault could not cover that side of the net quickly enough, and tapped the puck into the net at 7:59.
The Habs nearly narrowed the gap as Pitlick slipped through two defenders, just after the second goal, but could not get a shot off in time.
And then it was 3-0 as Thomas Chabot gained control of the puck in the slot in the Montreal zone, and sent it to Giroux. Giroux tried to pass it to Greig, but the puck bounced off Xhekaj’s skate, and past Montembeault into the net, for a 3-0 Ottawa lead at 9:32, not quite even halfway through the game.
The Habs finally had a chance to demonstrate their power-play prowess (or the lack thereof) at 15:27, as Mathieu Joseph was called for high-sticking Dach. The Habs managed a frantic flurry on goal but once again Forsberg shut the door.
The shots were 16-15 for Montreal and held an 8-7 edge in high-danger opportunities as well.
Only three behind should not be impossible, should it?
As the Habs got on the ice for the final period, they showed some good energy from the first faceoff, and only about 30 seconds later, Suzuki passed the puck to Anderson on a two-on-one attack, but Anderson’s quick wrist shot was turned away by Forsberg. Montembeault had to make two strong saves on the ensuing return attack, though.
Those attacks didn’t last long, though, as the Senators began to stifle any Montreal attacks. Soon the clock was moving far faster than any play on the ice, and the Habs didn’t record a single shot on the ice in the period until more than 15 minutes had elapsed. Even a power play, after Chabot was called for holding Rem Pitlick at 12:20, resulted in a struggle to enter and control the puck in the Ottawa zone.
So, head coach Martin St. Louis did what he has done so often this season: pulled the goalie, sending Montembeault to the bench. Fortuitously for the Habs, Travis Hamonic was called for holding at 16:36, enabling the Canadiens to play with six skaters against four. Hoffman hit the goalpost with a solid shot but that was all she wrote, and ten seconds before the penalty expired, Joseph took a shot at the right-side boards from the Ottawa zone — and the puck deflected into nearly the middle of the empty Canadiens net for a 4-0 lead.
Finally, 40 seconds after that, Giroux sent another flip pass into the Montreal zone, and Justin Barron, trying to corral it, lost the puck in his skates. Derick Brassard bolted for the loose puck, snatched it, and shot it past Montembeault to make the final score 5-0 for the Senators.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Kirby Dach (0g, 0a, 3 shots, 3 hits, 21:34 TOI) was a force of nature on the ice, making hits and creating chances, even if he had nothing to show for those on the scoresheet. +0 on the night as very few Habs were.
Second Star: Mike Matheson (0g, 0a, 4 shots, 1 hit, 25:43 TOI) seems to be playing better after his recovery from injury than he played before, and had three scoring chances while playing a strong, clean game in the Habs’ own zone.
Third Star: Mike Hoffman (0g, 0a, 4 shots, 20:51 TOI) played a solid game alongside Dach and Dadonov, recording four high-danger shots even as all lines were held scoreless.
Following the game, Beck revealed that he was heading back to Peterborough so he will not be participating in Tuesday’s rematch. He played just under ten minutes, picking up a block while going 1/3 on faceoffs.