For the first time in this young NHL season the Montreal Canadiens were playing games on back-to-back nights. Even more challenging was that the team was having to travel. Friday night the Habs were in Buffalo taking on the Sabres. The result was a hard fought 2-1 victory. Now they were back in the friendlier confines of the typically sold out Bell Centre.
Despite the two games in 24 hours, coach Jacques Martin decided to go with his young number one goalie, Carey Price, once again rather than allow veteran Alex Auld start his first regular season game for the organization. Price has played well in every game (there could be some arguments about the first game versus Toronto) and obviously has his coach's trust.
The team is also off to a good start to the season (3-1-1) and this is all without their number one defenceman, Andrei Markov, in the line-up. All this early season good play has to be encouraging to everyone following the team as Markov is thought of as the spoon that stirs the soup for the Canadiens. Winning some games without him is a good sign of the added depth and character of the team.
The Senators, who last played on Thursday evening against Carolina, and the Canadiens have built up quite a rivalry over the past couple of years and the games seem to always be chippy and close in score. Dominating the Canadiens last year Ottawa went 3-0 against the Habs in Montreal. But this is a little different Senator team so far this year. Ottawa has had a rough start only going 1-3-1 so far this season. They would have to face the Habs without their number one goaltender Pascale Leclaire, who is out with an injury. Daniel Alfredsson, who is not getting any younger, is a bit banged up. Alex Kovalev, coming off major knee surgery at the end of last season, has been pretty much invisible. The enigmatic Jason Spezza is also coming back after an injury.
Despite the fact that Montreal outshot Ottawa 40-19 and held a wide advantage in play the game was a tight one in which Montreal won by one goal. The team had to come back from a two goal deficit and scored the winning one with less than four minutes remaining in the game. Tighter game than it should have been due to some lack of killer instinct on the home team's side and a couple of weak goals given up by Carey Price.
The game between the two Canadian sides got off to a fast start due to an error by Milan Michalek. Alfredsson put a pass back to the right point to Michalek, who misplayed it and allowed the puck to get past him. It was off to the races for the speedy Brian Gionta. He sped by Michalek and went in alone on the Senators' Brian Elliott. Gionta made no mistake on his first goal of the season and froze the Senators' goalie with a deke to the backhand. The Canadiens were up 1-0 scoring on their first shot only 1:06 into the game. The fans went wild.
Making up for being the goat on the first Montreal goal, Michalek knocked in a rebound off an Alfredsson shot that Price should have done better on just over midway through the 1st period. Goaltender Carey Price seemed a little caught off guard by the Alfredsson shot from near the sideboards and only partially blocked the shot with his glove. Michalek pounced on the puck before the caught unawares Habs' defencemen or Price could react and stuck it in the back of the net.
The score remained tied through the first half of the 2nd period and Montreal held Ottawa without a shot on goal until 10:20. Unfortunately that first Ottawa shot went in the net. Rookie defenceman Erik Carlsson was left uncovered and ripped one past Price high on the glove side. Price could not be faulted for this goal as it was a bullet from Carlsson. The Senators then doubled their lead 0:53 later on their second shot of the period when Michalek notched his second of the evening. He walked around the struggling Jaroslav Spacek and then backhanded a weak shot on net that eluded Price.
One of the strengths of the Canadiens this season so far is the improved play of their 3rd and 4th lines. The 3rd line of Jeff Halpern – Maxime Lapierre – Dustin Boyd brought the Canadiens to within one goal of the Senators when Halpern scored his 2nd goal of the season. It was a lucky goal as Halpern took a pass from PK Subban behind the net and tried to play it out front. It bounced in behind Elliott after ricocheting off of defenceman Chris Campoli's skate.
The Habs tied the score when their best forward of the evening, Andrei Kostitsyn used his speed and strength in corralling a pass from linemate Tomas Plekanec then stuffing the puck up over Elliott. This is exactly the type of skill and effort that fans of the club have been waiting for from this talented Belarusian. He has top six skills, but his desire and heart have often been called into question. This is the final year of his contract so here's to hoping that the potential for getting some money will be motivating for him. Kostitsyn has played well his past couple of games, so hopefully this is a sign of things to come from him.
At the beginning of the 3rd period the Senators 19-year-old back up goaltender from Sweden, Robin Lehner, found himself in the net as Elliott was stuck in the locker room with a broken skate problem. Lehner made some tough saves during the 4:42 he played including a good save on an unmarked Michael Cammalleri.
Montreal continued to outshoot the Senators by a wide margin, but could not get one by Elliott. Finally the duo of Plekanec and Kostitsyn got together for the winning goal which was scored at 16:01 of the 3rd. Kostitsyn and Plekanec bolted off together on a rush. Plekanec gave Kostitsyn a great pass that sprung him down the left side and while Elliott was able to save this one he could not control the rebound, Plekanec was alone in the slot and his one timer found the empty side of the net that the Senators' goalie had vacated in order to stop Kostitsyn.
Though it was a victory that doesn't mean that the game did not leave us with things to think about. The number three defensive tandem of Subban and Alexandre Picard had a good night in which they were plus 3. Spacek continued to struggle and I wonder if it would be a good idea to give him some time off and insert Ryan O'Byrne back into the line-up? Spacek is not the only Hab who struggled as rookie Lars Eller only played just over 4 minutes, but ended the game minus 2. After being on for the first two Ottawa goals he was pretty much stapled to the bench for the rest of the game.
It was a good come from behind victory for the home side. They struggled, but pulled it out in what was largely a dull game. The team is off until Thursday when they play the New Jersey Devils.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Dave Jackson and Marc Joanette
Linesmen: Pierre Champoux and Pierre Racicot
-Goals: 1st Period:
1:06 – Montreal – Brian Gionta unassisted
10:32 – Ottawa – Milan Michalek assisted by Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza
10:20 – Ottawa – Erik Carlsson assisted by Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza
11:13 – Ottawa – Milan Michalek assisted by Chris Phillips
13:39 – Montreal – Jeff Halpern assisted by PK Subban and Travis Moen
17:29 – Montreal – Andrei Kostitsyn assisted by Tomas Plekanec
16:01 – Montreal – Tomas Plekanec assisted by Andrei Kostitsyn
-Shot on Goal: Montreal: 40
-3 Stars: 1) Andrei Kostitsyn – Montreal
2) Tomas Plekanec – Montreal
3) Milan Michalek – Ottawa
-Final Score: Montreal: 4