Just one night removed from a strong showing in Boston, the Canadiens rolled into the Canadian Tire Centre looking to make it a perfect three wins to open the season, this time against the rival Senators.
Image Credit: HockeyStats.ca
In a game featuring a growing rivalry, fueled in part by last season's match-up in the first round of the playoffs, the storyline was all about two players only now becoming part of it. Goaltenders Mike Condon and Matthew O'Connor made their NHL debuts for the Habs and Senators respectively, marking the first time since 1967 that two goalies would do so in the same game. While both impressed, it would become apparent early on that one would be relied on just a little bit more.
The Habs certainly didn't look like a team who had played the night before when the puck dropped to start the opening period, dominating the flow of play for nearly the entirety of the first five minutes. Condon made his presence felt just minutes into the game with a big save on a 2-on-1 before the Habs took over once again.
The first line in particular looked dangerous, with a great deal of sustained pressure in the offensive zone. And it would pay dividends for them, as Tomas Plekanec caught O'Connor cheating, squeezed the puck between his skate and the post from an impossible angle, giving the Canadiens a 1-0 lead halfway through the frame.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) October 12, 2015
Dale Weise and Kyle Turris would take offsetting minors for roughing later in the period, opening up the ice for some 4-on-4 action. Plekanec, once again, wasted no time in taking advantage as he poked a puck free from Erik Karlsson at the blue-line, and took off on a breakaway chance. The veteran made no mistake wiring it between the legs of O'Connor, giving the Habs a 2-0 lead.
The Canadiens' strong first period would set the tone for the rest of the game, as they out-shot the Senators in every period, looking like a more confident possession team - at least in the offensive zone. The Habs would make familiar mistakes defensively, coughing the puck up and forcing Condon to be sharp as a result of ill-advised stretch passes. It wouldn't hurt them, at least in the first, as they took the 2-goal load into the break.
The second period opened in much the same way as the first ended, although Condon would be tested early on by Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the rookie netminder answering well with a big glove stop. This was a period in which the Habs dominated possession with the help of a few man-advantages - that's not to say that everything went well.
The story of the period, rather, was the continued struggles of the Habs power play unit which would go 0/7 on the evening. Things went from bad to worse for them midway through the second when Pageau picked up a loose puck and took off down the ice for a shorthanded two-on-one, opting to shoot and beating Condon to cut the Habs lead in half.
If not for an outstanding defensive play by Jeff Petry, the Sens may have struck shorthanded once again. Petry skated hard on the back-check, catching up to a streaking Curtis Lazar, and knocking him off the puck to put an end to his breakaway chance. The Habs would end the period with the lead intact, but blown chances on the power play breathed life into the Senators and their hometown crowd.
As the third period opened, it was Plekanec again making life hard for the Senators defence, finding the puck on his stick right in front of O'Connor. He was unable to score on that attempt, but the chances continued. A notable opportunity came after a good play by Alex Galchenyuk to strip the puck and head the opposite way, finding Alexander Semin across the ice. Semin unloaded a heavy shot that went high and wide.
The Galchenyuk line was strong once again in this game, fresh off something of a coming-out party against the Bruins on Saturday night. They failed to reach the score-sheet, and struggled a bit in comparison to their previous game, but their creative offensive play continued, and they looked like a threat on numerous occasions.
The Canadiens would suck the life out of the Kanata crowd once again, this time just five minutes into the period on a play that never looked like much. P.K. Subban took a harmless wrist shot from the point, which Torrey Mitchell was able to deflect. O'Connor never saw the floating puck until it had already beaten him, giving the Habs a 3-1 lead with 15 minutes to play. Worth noting is the quietly effective play of Mitchell, and the entire fourth line all evening, which managed to get up the ice and keep the puck away from Condon during most of their shifts.
Things got interesting in the final moments of the third, as the Senators looked to get back into this one. Mitchell took a penalty with just under two minutes to go, giving the Sens a man-advantage in their effort to come within one goal. A scramble would ensue around the net, but Condon came up big, swiping the puck out from behind him just moments before sliding across for his best save of the game with mere seconds remaining. The Habs would hold on as time expired, improving the a perfect three wins on the season and giving Condon the victory in his first career start.
Plekanec, of course, was the hero with two early goals which brought him to 502 career points - passing Bob Gainey, and tying Ralph Backstrom at 21st all-time for the Canadiens.
The Habs are back in action on Tuesday night, when they will close out their four-game road trip against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins will be playing their first home game of the season, which hasn't been kind to them so far. They've lost two straight games to open the 2015-16 campaign. Puck drop for that game is 7:00 PM ET.