Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators @ Scotiabank Place – January 30, 2013

The early season has not exactly gone as expected for the Montreal Canadiens and that is a good thing.  Most experts did not think much of Michel Therrien’s team coming into the abbreviated 2013 season.  It was expected that the team would in the best case scenario battling for the 8th and final playoff position in the East and would probably be more around the bottom of barrel like they were last season.  With their 3-1-1-0 record coming into the game versus Ottawa many were pleasantly surprised with the Montreal team.

Montreal came into the game riding a four game winning streak.  They had also scored 4 goals in 4 straight games for the first time since 2008.  Their power play was ranked 6th overall in the NHL.  It was for the most part hearts and flowers in the early going.  That was about to change.

What should have inspired the Habs was the fact that Jason Spezza (back) and Sergei Gonchar (lower body injury) would not be in the Senators’ line up.  No changes were made to the Montreal line up with Yanick Weber and Michael Blunden being healthy scratches.  Big roster news was that PK Subban was signed on Monday and rejoined Montreal for the first time on Wednesday.  Peter Budaj made his first start of the season for Montreal.  He hadn’t played since last April, so there would understandably be a little rust.

The game had a very sluggish start for both sides which was probably due to the frequent penalty killing/power plays they had to endure.  It also featured a virtual parade to the penalty box by both teams.  It was chippy and rough throughout the game.  This is to be expected during this compressed season with teams only playing opponents from their division.  This should lead to plenty of hotly contested games.

Montreal, for a team that has been criticized until very recently for being too soft, has the two top penalized players in the NHL.  Ryan White and Brandon Prust are at the top of that list.  Defenseman Alexei Emelin is the league leader in body checks.  Bottom line is that Montreal is no longer a team that can be pushed around.  This robustness has served them well, but last night they let things get a little out of hand and the penalties ended up hurting them.

Barely 1 and ½ minutes into the game Montreal’s White and Ottawa’s Zack Smith dropped their gloves.  Smith was mad at a heavy check he received from Colby Armstrong in his own end, so when White hit him again along the boards he was itching for a fight.

On Montreal’s first power play opportunity their hot streak continued.  And it was the usual suspects chipping in on the team’s first (and, as it ended up, only) goal.  At 5:31 Tomas Plekanec profited from a scramble in front of the Ottawa net and slid a puck past an off balance Craig Anderson.  The assists went to the team’s two leading scorers (with 8 points), Andrei Markov and Rafael Diaz.  Montreal once again scored the first goal in a game, but the rest of the game did not follow recent trend.

Right after the Montreal goal Ottawa’s Chris Neil challenged Brandon Prust to a fight.  It seemed like Prust was a little reluctant, but eventually dropped his gloves.  While they were serving their 5 minutes (Neil got an extra two for unsportsmanlike conduct) Ottawa scored an even strength goal at 7:53 to knot up the score.  It was Jim O’Brien’s 3rd of the season with assists going to Erik Karlsson and Erik Condra.

So far this season Senators’ goaltender Craig Anderson has not let in a goal in the 2nd or 3rd periods of games he’s played in.  This streak continued.  The 2nd period totally belonged to the home team.

It seemed like Ottawa was all over Montreal and the Habs were out of sorts due to the stream of penalties.  Reigning Norris Trophy winner Karlsson showed his speed and skill when 5 minutes into the 2nd he blew by Brian Gionta like the Canadien’s captain was standing still and hit the far post behind Budaj.  It was just a sign of things to come.

Ryan White has so far in his career has been the type of player that plays on the edge.  He is robust and is not afraid to drop his gloves.  Sometimes, though, he loses control and does something stupid.  At 7:24 White was assessed a double minor that ended up being the straw that broke the Canadiens’ backs.  He was given a 2 minute penalty for high sticking (which was merited) and did not like it.  He said something to the ref and a 2 minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was tacked on.  That was the breathing room that Ottawa needed to take control of the game.

Ottawa has been no slouch on the power play this season either.  They have been successful at a 26% click.  White had to sit there in the box watching as Ottawa struck for two power play goals.  The first of the season for captain Daniel Alfredsson ended up being the winner and it was followed just under 2 minutes later by the first NHL goal by Mika Zibanejad.  White’s selfishness cost his team dearly.

Those two goals seemed to take the wind out of the Habs’ sails as Ottawa struck for another goal before the end of the 2nd period.  This time it was courtesy of a one-timer from the slot by defenseman Chris Phillips.  3 goals in 3:35 for the home team and it was pretty much over from that point on.

Montreal came out (after a good talking to by the coach in between the 2nd and 3rd periods, I’m sure) and played well in the 3rd, but could not score.  That is not to say that they did not have a couple of stellar chances.  I’m sure that Prust saw Anderson in his dreams last night as the Senators’ goalie stole a goal from him on two separate occasions.  Montreal was much better in the 3rd period in the offensive zone and even outshot Ottawa 13-5, but couldn’t beat Anderson.

The only goal in the 3rd period was courtesy of Chris Neil on a wrap around that Budaj didn’t get over quickly enough to cover.  Budaj was not great, but certainly wasn’t the reason the Habs lost.  Plus he was the victim of goals that went in off his defenseman and a couple of power play goals.  Ottawa was the better team and nothing was really working for Montreal.  It was a bad game and over the course of a season they are going to happen to all teams.  It becomes worrisome if this kind of performance repeats itself for several games in a row.  Hold off on pushing the panic button just yet.

The next game for Montreal is Saturday afternoon (traditional back to back afternoon games on Super Bowl weekend) at the Bell Centre against the Buffalo Sabres.  A couple of questions for Michel Therrien to ponder before their next game are:  1) Should Ryan White be punished for his indiscipline? And 2) Will PK Subban be in uniform?

Game Stats:

On-Ice Officials:  Referees:  Steve Kozari and Ian Walsh

Linesmen:  Matt MacPherson and Andy McElman

-Goals:  1st Period:

5:31:  Montreal – (pp)  Tomas Plekanec assisted by Andrei Markov and Rafael Diaz

7:53:  Ottawa – Jim O’Brien assisted by Erik Karlsson and Erik Condra

2nd Period:

7:27:  Ottawa – (pp)  Daniel Alfredsson assisted by Kyle Turris and Patrick Wiercioch

9:25:  Ottawa – (pp)  Mika Zibanejad assisted by André Benoit and Colin Greening

11:02:  Ottawa – Chris Phillips assisted by Zack Smith and Colin Greening

3rd Period:

14:46:  Ottawa – Chris Neil assisted by André Benoit and Zack Smith

-Shots on Goal:  Montreal:  32

Ottawa:  27

-Attendance:  19,620

-Final Score:  Montreal:  1

Ottawa:  5

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