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Canadiens vs Senators recap: Montreal's top line restores the Atlantic lead

Lars Eller returns to play his first game in two weeks as Montreal's five-game homestand comes to an end.

Alex Galchenyuk scores his tenth goal of the season to secure a 4-1 win
Alex Galchenyuk scores his tenth goal of the season to secure a 4-1 win
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Determined to break the trend of poor first period starts, the Canadiens came out flying to begin the game, drawing a powerplay off sustained offensive zone pressure less than two minutes in.

The Senators would be the ones to take advantage of that situation when Erik Condra went on a short-handed rush off a mishandled pass from Sven Andrighetto in Ottawa's end.  Condra's shot off the rush was not controlled by Carey Price, with the puck getting behind the Canadiens' netminder to be tapped in by the penalty-killing forward getting to his own rebound.

Undaunted, the Canadiens kept the pressure up and scored on their thirteenth shot attempt in the first six-and-a-half minutes.  Brandon Prust beat Robin Lehner from a sharp angle to give each team a goal that the opposing goalie should have prevented.  The goal gave Prust his tenth point of the season and 100th of his NHL career.

The Senators pushed back in the first, holding the edge in shots at the end of the period, but were unable to beat Carey Price with any of them.

The second period was quite a dull affair with teams trading turnovers as they each tried to carry the puck through a clogged neutral zone.  The good news is that the Canadiens forwards were in good position to accept short passes out of the zone to get up the ice, but the execution just wasn't there.

With the exception of a beautiful rush by Montreal's top line, that is.  Max Pacioretty, who seems to be happy playing the role of setup man on Alex Galchenyuk's wing of late, skated the puck over the blueline and sent a short pass across to Galchenyuk, who relayed it over to Brendan Gallagher to pot his ninth goal and give the Canadiens their first lead.

The third period was a combination of Montreal controlling the lead and Ottawa succumbing to the fatigue of playing their third game in four nights, with the visiting team having difficulty generating many shots on net.  A late too many men on the ice penalty gave the Canadiens their third powerplay, which Tomas Plekanec converted by stuffing home an insurance marker from the goal crease.

Galchenyuk wasn't convinced that a two-goal lead was enough, increasing the lead to three on a nice passing play from now-playmaker Pacioretty and a net-driving Alexei Emelin less than a minute later.

After allowing a goal off the first shot he faced, Carey Price locked his net down for the remainder of the game, stopping the final twenty-three shots Ottawa sent his way, with the most dangerous opportunities coming from the Senators' surge in the latter half of the first period.

The powerplay, finishing even on the night with both a goal for and against, remains the weakest aspect of the Canadiens' play.  Zone entries are too slow and spread out, giving only stationary targets for defencemen to hit at the opposing blueline.  The forward support that Montreal used at even strength (albeit to the middling effect described above) wasn't present during the five-versus-four settings.  At one point in the game Andrei Markov gestured annoyedly at the forwards to regroup after he was unable to find an open passing play up the ice.  It seems like a simple task to translate the five-on-five puck movement to a man-advantage situation, but zone entries continue to baffle the Canadiens when facing four opposing skaters.

In his first game back from injury, Lars Eller looked a bit rusty centring David Desharnais and P.-A. Parenteau, but seemed to find his game as time went on.  His faceoff prowess remains intact as he won six of his eight faceoffs on a night when Galchenyuk, Plekanec, and even Manny Malhotra were all below fifty percent.

With the win and a Tampa Bay loss to the New York Islanders, Montreal retook the Atlantic Division lead, having a game in hand on their Floridian adversaries.  The Canadiens will take on that second seed in the Metropolitan Division as they head to Long Island for their final game before the Christmas break on Tuesday.