This was to be a big weekend for the two top teams in the Atlantic Division. A back-to-back, home and home series seeing the Habs face off against their rivals, the Ottawa Senators. Montreal was in 1st place by the slimmest of margins (1 point) before the Saturday night tilt in Ottawa. The bleu-blanc-rouge won the first game 4-3 in a shootout. Now on Bell Centre ice on a rare Sunday night home game they would face off against each other again.
Montreal had a dream start scoring less than 30 seconds into the game. The often maligned Tomas Plekanec found himself free on Craig Anderson’s doorstep to bang home a rebound off an Andre Markov point shot. It was only the centreman’s 8th goal of the season and first in 19 games, but none so far have been this important. Using this good start Montreal dominated the 1st period, controlling the tempo and earning the most scoring chances. Like is often the case when they did not cash in on their chances when Ottawa was afforded one they made it count.
Just a few minutes after Montreal took the 1-0 lead a fluke bounce resulted in Tom Pyatt evening the score with his former team. His chip shot from close in went into the top part of the net after hitting Jordie Benn surprising Carey Price, who was already on his knees reacting to the original shot. Bad luck!
Unlike before Claude Julien took over as coach of the Canadiens they did not allow it to get them down and continued controlling things.
Habs’ fans have raked GM Marc Bergevin over the coals for not bringing a top six forward or making a big trade (Subban for Weber?). They complain he just keeps bringing on 3rd or 4th line players. Well, Jordie Benn has been a total win for the Habs’ GM and team so far. And he only cost the team a defenceman (Greg Pateryn) who was having trouble cracking the line-up and a fourth round draft choice. He has been a monster on the penalty kill and blocking shots. Never seems to make the wrong choice with the puck, keeping things simple. And he is chipping in with some offense. Benn scored his 4th of the season (2nd with Montreal) late in the 1st period on a point shot which deflected off of Viktor Stalberg’s stick up an over Anderson’s shoulder.
The 2nd period, other than an early portion, was again dominated by the home side. At one point Montreal was outshooting Ottawa 10-3 in the period. To make sure that the Senators had no thoughts of making a comeback like they had the previous night, Price made a sparkling right pad save off of Kyle Turris with three minutes left in the middle frame. Earned him another standing ovation.
One of the best waiver signings by the Habs ever has been Paul Byron. The smaller but fast as lightning forward has really shown some offensive flair this season for the relatively small amount of $1.166 million per season (for next two years). He pretty much sealed the deal with his 20th (!) goal of the season just 3:30 into the 3rd period. He and Plekanec went away on a 2-on-1. Byron kept the puck and whipped a just off the ice shot through the five hole. Party was on!
After some rough stuff including a fight between Montreal’s Torrey Mitchell and Ottawa’s Chris Kelly, Bobby Ryan was awarded an interference penalty for hitting Alexander Radulov when he did not have the puck. On the ensuing power play, the recently bench Nathan Beaulieu rocketed a point shot through Anderson. His fist pump celebration afterwards showed how much the goal meant to him.
Speaking of recently benched, Alexei Emelin (back in the line-up after being a healthy scratch the night before) had a good game with five hits and no brain cramps like he had been having of late. Showed that he is an important part of the Montreal defensive unit when playing like he can.
Fans at the Bell Centre thought they had another Byron goal a mere six seconds after Beaulieu’s goal, but after a video review it was shown that Byron was centimetres ahead of entering the zone before Gallagher crossed the blue line with the puck. Oh well! A 4-1 victory was enough of a statement.
Montreal is on a good streak of late winning six of their last eight with only 10 games remaining in the regular season and they are ahead of Ottawa for first place by four points. Next up for the Habs is a game on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre against the Detroit Red Wings.
-Goals: 1st Period:
0:28: Montreal – Tomas Plekanec assisted by Andre Markov and Paul Byron
4:36: Ottawa – Tom Pyatt assisted by Mike Hoffman and Jean-Pierre Pageau
17:45: Montreal – Jordie Benn assisted by Nathan Beaulieu and Alexander Radulov
3:30: Montreal – Paul Byron assisted by Brendan Gallagher and Shea Weber
15:08: Montreal – (pp) Nathan Beaulieu assisted by Andrew Shaw and Philip Danault
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 37
Ottawa – 31
-3 Stars: 1) Paul Byron – Montreal
2) Tomas Plekanec – Montreal
3) Brendan Gallagher – Montreal
-Final Score: Montreal – 4
Ottawa – 1