Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators @ Bell Centre – January 14, 2012

This was an eventful week for Montreal with the trade of the unhappy Michael Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames for winger Rene Bourque.  Bourque was not in the line up as he was sitting out the last game of his 5 game suspension (his second suspension this season) for a hit to the head. Cammalleri was making his redebut in a Flames uniform against another of his old teams, the Los Angeles Kings.  Rumours are that general manager Pierre Gauthier is not done on the trading front, so batten down the hatches and stay tuned.

Other line up changes included Scott Gomez’s return.  This was the first game for him since November 23, 2011.  Gomez had missed the last 21 games.  An interesting stat is that the Habs had only won 6 of those 21 games.  Food for thought.  Maybe Gomez is a valuable player….just kidding.  He played on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Michael Blunden.  Defenceman Chris Campoli was also back in the line up against one of his former teams and Alexei Emelin was a healthy scratch.

Ottawa has been a pleasant surprise this season.  They are in 5th place in the Eastern Division.  Ottawa’s strength has been its blueline’s offensive talent made up of young players matched with a veteran and the ability to be physical. Coach Paul Mclean has also been a major reason for the turnaround with his intensity and great communication skills.  Former NHLer McLean previously worked with Mike Babcock with the Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks.  Plus Ottawa is a strong offensive team.  They are the 2nd best in the Eastern Division with 143 goals.  No hockey pundits had Ottawa in the playoffs before the season, so it looks like there is going to be much crow eating.

Ottawa is hosting the All-Star game this season and Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, and Erik Karlsson were all voted on the team.  Rookie Colin Greening was also selected to participate in the rookie game.  Carey Price is the Habs’ representative.

Montreal’s season has gone the other way. They are mired in 12th place in the Eastern Division.  And after three straight losses it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better any time soon.  On the bright side, Montreal had won both games against Ottawa so far this season.

On this cold Montreal evening it was Carey Price versus Craig Anderson in nets. Anderson has .906 save percentage.  Both goaltenders have been busy this season.  This was Price’s 39th start of the season and Anderson’s 40th.

Some bad luck for Montreal happened just over 7 minutes into the game.  It looked like PK Subban had scored his fourth goal of the season on a nice feed from his defensive partner, Josh Gorges. Referee Paul Devorski called the goal off right away.  He gave a two minute goaltender inference penalty to Andrei Kostitsyn.  Watching the replay it was clear that Kostitsyn was pushed into Anderson by Michalek.  Should have been a goal.  Hockey gods are against us.

Montreal’s penalty kill continues to be the strongest facet of their game.  Towards the end of the Kostitsyn penalty Plekanec had the first of his three breakaways of the game. Anderson (6’2”, 183 pounds) with his big stature came out and challenged the Habs’ centreman.  It was a good shot by Plekanec, but it just bounced off Anderson’s shoulder into the corner of the rink.

What hasn’t been strong for the Canadiens has been their power play.  At a measly 13.3% they are 3rd worst in the entire league.  On this night Montreal had 5 power play opportunities and did not score on any of them.  They were not even able to mount any sustained pressure during them. Their power play has been killing them all season long.

A tightly, evenly played game was what the over 21 thousand in attendance were seeing. The game was 0-0 going into the 3rd period.  The closest either team had come was late in the 2nd period when an Ottawa slapshot deflected off Yannick Weber’s stick and hit the crossbar behind Price.

Max Pacioretty was assessed a silly, undisciplined penalty late in the 2nd period for giving a Senator a tap on the shins as he was going to the bench.  Once again the Montreal penalty killing was great.  Even better than great they scored a short handed goal.  Third time was a charm for Plekanec.  He had a partial breakaway after Karlsson fumbled with the puck at the Montreal blueline.  Plekanec leapt at the opportunity and was off to the races.  With Karlsson practically on his back, Plekanec was still able to muster a shot.  The shot dribbled over the line after squeezing between Anderson’s arm and body.  The first goal of the game came at 0:42 of the 3rd period.

The way things were going in this low scoring affair you might have thought that that might be enough to win the game for the home side.  It wasn’t and they didn’t.  Ottawa notched up the game at 1-1 just over 5 minutes later.  Newly acquired Kyle Turris scored his 2nd of the season on a perfect deflection that totally fooled Price.

Price who had a fairly easy go of it over the first two periods (only 13 shots faced), but he was totally earning his money in the 3rd.  After scoring their first goal Ottawa was the dominant team.  They directed 11 shots at Price in the 3rd.

Ottawa took the lead at 13:45 while on a power play.  Even Montreal’s great penalty kill gives up the odd goal or two.  Plekanec, in another stroke of bad luck for Montreal, had been assessed a 4 minute high sticking penalty (their second of the game – Weber got one earlier) when he accidentally struck and cut an Ottawa player who was behind him in the Ottawa zone.  During the first two minutes of the power play Jason Spezza showed his offensive savvy.  Price was deep in his net due to  traffic in front by Michalek.  Spezza smartly used Hal Gill as a screen and wired a shot over the glove of Price.

If you needed anymore proof that Gorges has become the leader of the defensive corps then it happened towards the end of the 3rd with Montreal trailing 2-1.  During a TV timeout, Gorges skated in front of his bench imploring his teammates not to give up.  Seems like unlike Cammalleri, his teammates listen when Gorges talks.

After coach Randy Cunnyworth pulled Price with under a minute left in the game for an extra attacker and put the effective Pacioretty-David Desharnais-Erik Cole line out, Montreal scored with 38 seconds left in the game.  Pacioretty, who was left uncovered by Michalek, pushed the puck past the Senator netminder into an empty net after Anderson made a pad save on a Desharnais backhand.

Just when you start feeling good about this team they end up making you realize that they are not a very good team afterall.  With 27 seconds left Gorges, with no real pressure on him, put the put over the glass in his own end.  The Canadiens were going to have to finish the game and start overtime a man down.

Montreal was able to kill off the 27 seconds left in the game and then the ensuing 1:33 of 4-on-3 in overtime.  Plekanec, who won a couple of important face offs, Gill and Subban did a great job.

In shootouts, Lars Eller, Tomas Kaberle (who has actually been successful on 40% of his previous shoot out attempts) and Pacioretty all were stopped by Anderson.  Price did well in stopping Michalek and Spezza, but Alfredsson got the better of him.  Alfredsson, who has always done well against the Habs, has notched 102 points over the course of 82 games against Montreal.  He is a perfect 4 for 4 on his shoot out attempts this season and beat Price with a precise wrist shot through the five hole.

On one hand it was a positive that Montreal was able to get a point in a game against the 5th place team, but the fact that they had outshot the visitors and had five power play opportunities makes it a disappointment.  And the weekend was not going to get any easier.

The Canadiens have back-to-back games this weekend.  Sunday evening the second game will be against the New York Rangers.  Peter Budaj will get his sixth start of the season against the Rangers, a team in 1st place in the Eastern Division.  Here’s to hoping that the newest Hab, Rene Bourque, can have a whale of a game in his debut with the bleu-blanc-rouge.

Game Stats:
-On-Ice Officials:  Referees:  Paul Devorski and Stephane Auger
Linesmen:  Jonny Murray and Derek Nansen
-Goals:  3rd Period:
0:42:  Montreal Goal – (sh) Tomas Plekanec unassisted
5:57:  Ottawa Goal – Kyle Turris assisted by Sergei Gonchar and Nick Foligno
13:45:  Ottawa Goal – (pp) Jason Spezza assisted by Filip Kuba and Erik Karlsson
19:22:  Montreal Goal:  Max Pacioretty assisted by David Desharnais and Chris Campoli
-Shots on Goal:  Montreal:  35
Ottawa:  25
-3 Stars:  1)  Daniel Alfredsson – Ottawa
2)  Jason Spezza – Ottawa
3)  Craig Anderson – Ottawa
-Attendance:  21,273
-Final Score:  Montreal:  2
Ottawa:  3 (shoot out overtime)

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