After taking out the Devils and the Flyers by identical 5-2 scores, the latter just last night, the Canadiens returned home to the Bell Centre to take on the Senators, whom they had been unable to defeat so far this season. The starting lineup was essentially identical to the previous night, other than Samuel Montembeault taking over the goaltending duties from Jake Allen.
With Ottawa still in the hunt for a wildcard playoff spot, the opposition was nowhere near as demoralized and disorganized as in Philadelphia, and the Habs seemed to have lost a step, too, playing on consecutive nights. So, 5-2 it ended again, but this time the Canadiens were at the wrong end of that score.
First snooze of the night
If the Habs were tired after last night’s game and the late flight home, the two-hour drive down the 417 seemed to have sapped the Senators’ energy levels, too. The game started tentatively, with little energy on either side. Montreal had the early edge in shots, but they were not dangerous and Mads Sogaard had little trouble turning those away.
It was past the one-third mark of the period before either team could apply sustained pressure, and it was Ottawa that got there first. The Senators rotated the puck around the Habs’ zone, won board battles, and created some dangerous scoring opportunities with Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, and Claude Giroux all testing Montembeault, who finally had to start working hard.
The Senators’ bad boy Austin Watson was called for roughing midway through the period, although his hit on Justin Barron, in front of the Habs’ bench, could have easily been called interference or boarding instead. Concurrently, David Savard had to get patched up for a cut under his chin, but no high-sticking penalty was called.
The Habs’ power play looked good early, and as Mike Matheson’s shot knocked the stick out of Sogaard’s hand, they had a golden opportunity to open the scoring. They did record two more shots on the play but Sogaard was able to handle those even without a stick.
The Sens made a shorthanded break at the end of the power play and continued pressure as Watson returned to the ice. Mathieu Joseph had a dangerous opportunity but was foiled by Montembeault.
A few minutes later, after a faceoff in the Habs’ zone, the Senators took control of the puck, and Mike Hoffman was slow to get to his position. Nick Holden was able to get the puck at the top of the right-hand circle, and he shot from there through traffic – at least half a dozen players blocking Montembeault’s view – and Derick Brassard was in front of the goal to tip the puck into the net for a 1-0 Ottawa lead.
The shots on goal in the first period were 9-5 for the Habs, but high-danger scoring chances were a stark 5-1 for the Sens.
It’s all twos
After another early snoozing session, Michael Pezzetta delivered a hard hit on Erik Brannstrom. Watson took exception to that, and Pezzetta, with the Barron hit still fresh in his memory, was ready for the challenge. The pugilists dropped their gloves, performed a brief tango, and then tangled. Few actual hits were thrown before the pair fell onto the ice in a firm embrace, and the linesmen arrived to separate them.
There was no obvious energy extracted from the fight on either side, but soon after that, Matheson skated into the Ottawa zone on the right side and took a hard shot from the top of the faceoff circle. Sogaard made a save, but the rebound dropped in front of him. With Chabot seemingly relaxed after the save, Matheson skated around him and shot the loose puck through Sogaard’s five-hole at 4:29 to tie the game up at one goal apiece.
Rafael Harvey-Pinard was called for interference at 6:26, but the Canadiens had the better of that power play, and Alex Belzile had a scoring chance on Sogaard. And ten or so seconds after the penalty expired, Johnathan Kovacevic sent Nick Suzuki off with a long pass. Suzuki used his speed to convert it into a breakaway and then leveraged his shooting skills to beat Sogaard with a stonking breakaway goal. It was a 2-1 Montreal lead, then at 8:46, just before the halfway point of the game.
Suzuki had two more breaks on his next shift, the first with Harvey-Pinard (who couldn’t control the pass) and the second with Josh Anderson (who could, but his wrist shot was saved by Sogaard).
But the Senators hadn’t given up, and as the clock was ticking toward 14 minutes, Alex DeBrincat broke into the Habs’ zone, with Hoffman giving chase. DeBrincat could not get a shot away, but he maintained puck control as he reached the end boards, and as he moved back toward the left-hand circle, he spotted Shane Pinto driving for the net, with neither Hoffman nor anyone else covering him. A quick, clean pass to Pinto, who redirected it into the net, behind Montembeault to tie the game back up.
Shots were for the Habs in the second, too, 13-7, as were the high-danger chances, though only 2-1.
A trio of turds in the third
Ottawa came out flying to start the third, determined to take two points with them for the drive home, and DeBrincat showed them the way, glancing a hard shot off the post at 1:25.
But it was another Senators’ faceoff win in the Habs’ own zone that sealed the deal: again, the defensive coverage was lacking for the Ottawa set piece, and Watson tipped a Travis Hamonic shot into the top corner of the net to give the Sens a 3-2 lead, 4:31 into the final frame.
Fewer than 20 seconds after that, Suzuki had another breakaway, from an Anderson pass, but this time his shot went wide and only Suzuki himself slid toward the goal, colliding with Sogaard.
Instead, it was Drake Batherson scoring at 5:18, coming in on a two-man attack from a Brady Tkachuk feed. Jordan Harris was there to defend, but as the Habs’ rookie defender looked for a shot-blocking opportunity, Batherson instead used him as a screen and wired a shot into the top-right corner of the goal to double the Ottawa lead to two goals.
Julien Gauthier added the cherry on top for the Senators at 11:57, scoring his first goal in an Ottawa sweater. With the Habs’ forwards stumbling on an attack in front of Sogaard, Gauthier, and Joseph were able to skate in with only Barron back to defend. Barron needed to take away the pass option, and he did, but Gauthier’s shot beat Montembeault cleanly to make the final score 5-2 for the third game in a row.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Nick Suzuki (1g, 0a, 2 shots, 22:03 TOI) had the best speed on the ice tonight, and could have easily scored two or three points. In spite of the singular point, it was a strong night, even by the lofty Nick Suzuki standards.
Second Star: Mike Matheson (1g, 0a, 6 shots, 24:47 TOI) played an outstanding offensive game, even if he was also on the ice for three Ottawa goals. Offensive production is the reason the Canadiens acquired him, and he is not disappointing in this regard.
Third Star: Johnathan Kovacevic (0g, 1a, 0 shots, 16:19 TOI) made a number of excellent defensive plays, and his pass for the Suzuki breakaway was outstanding. He is steadily working to move his status from a waivers refugee to a defensive stalwart.
Honourable Mentions: Christian Dvorak, Rem Pitlick and Evgenii Dadonov (0g, 0a all) did yeoman’s work on the third line, controlling play better than any other line and not giving up a single high-danger scoring opportunity.
Following the game, the Habs issued several injury updates. Kirby Dach, Joel Armia, and Sean Monahan won’t travel with the team on the road but Joel Edmundson and Kaiden Guhle will. Corey Schueneman was sent down after the game, suggesting that Guhle will be in uniform on Tuesday in San Jose. Lastly, Arber Xhekaj will undergo shoulder surgery next week and will be out for the season.