After losing a string of games in painful fashion, the Habs needed to play a complete 60 minutes, but even more than that they needed a win to show for it. Nathan Beaulieu was back in the lineup with things to prove, and the Habs owed Dustin Tokarski a better game. While the end got a little hairy, the Habs ultimately delivered.
Image Credit: HockeyStats.ca
After an offensive rush by Daniel Carr opened the game, the Senators had a dangerous chance at the other end. Dustin Tokarski prevented the Senators from scoring on that initial chance, and held on with the puck trapped under his pad, while Mike Hoffman, the NHL's hottest goal-scorer heading into the game, took several hearty whacks.
The only way to describe the Habs' play in the remainder of the first period was complete domination of their opponent. They recovered from that initial chance quickly, and kept their foot firmly on the pedal for the rest of the frame.
Beaulieu was on fire all night long, but his most crucial play occurred at 2:48 of the first, when he drove around the net and his wraparound attempt went through the blue paint, straight to the stick of a wide-open Brian Flynn. Flynn slammed the puck home with authority, in what was arguably his best game as a Canadien. Charles Hudon got his second point in as many games on the play, and the Habs new-look fourth line re-established itself as the most dangerous fourth line in hockey.
Flynn goal, 1-0 Habs pic.twitter.com/oF6sDPN9vT— Stephanie (@myregularface) December 13, 2015
By the ten minute mark, the Habs had already reached 12 shots, and were moving up the ice with authority. Erik Karlsson, frustrated with the flow of the game, took a penalty against Max Pacioretty, and the Habs' power play went to work. While the Habs created some great chances off an initial shot from Andrei Markov, Craig Anderson ultimately pounced on the puck to hold his team's deficit to just one goal.
As the period drew toward a close, the Habs were winning all the battles and flying across the ice. The shots had climbed to 24-7. The Senators were visibly frustrated, and it was about to get worse for the visiting squad.
With barely 30 seconds left, a nice stick check from Dale Weise turned the puck over at the Senators' blue line, and a beautiful pass from Tomas Plekanec to a wide-open Pacioretty resulted in the captain's 14th goal of the year on the Canadiens' 26th shot of the period.
Right before the buzzer, Dale Weise was sprung all alone and nearly had a goal himself, bringing the Habs up to 27 shots; a mark they hadn't achieved in one period since the 1970s, and the most shots ever surrendered in 20 minutes by the Senators.
The second period was largely more of the same. The Habs came out flying again, and looked more dominant than they had in a long while. They cycled well, skated with authority, and were, above all, fast and strong on the puck. The Sens had nothing with which to counter the onslaught.
Everything came to a head five-and-a-half minutes into the second as a top-notch defensive play by Jeff Petry. The play unfolded with a skilled bit of passing from Alex Galchenyuk to Weise, and culminated in an absolute laser of a shot that Petry blasted past Anderson to give the Habs the 3-0 lead.
Petry goal put Habs up 3-0. They're now up 4-0 pic.twitter.com/7yHHJkdqqt— Stephanie (@myregularface) December 13, 2015
Hardly had the goal celebration died down than Pacioretty put the puck in the net again after a pileup near the crease. The Sens pulled Anderson in responce. However, a review determined that Pacioretty had gloved the puck in, and the goal was called back (though Anderson was not). That's when the Senators finally woke up.
Despite some stronger push-back from the Senators, however, Desharnais rang a few great chances off the crossbar, and Beaulieu continued to be one of the best players on the ice while the Habs continued pressing.
At 11:24 Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored his obligatory goal, and the Habs began to slide straight back into their defensive shell, seemingly nothing learned from their failures of the previous games. Fortunately, Tokarski stood tall and held the fort. Galchenyuk did manage to draw a penalty to give the Habs a bit of an offensive boost, and there were some serious chances from Galchenyuk and Beaulieu while up an extra man on the power play. Unfortunately though, they were unable to restore the three-goal lead.
With the period progressing, the physicality and nastiness amped up as the Senators attempted to spark a comeback. The Habs had chances, and the Sens countered with their own, but to give you an idea of how off the Senators were, Alexei Emelin connected for a rare thunderous hit on as the Norris-winner attempted to gain the blue line.
There were a nervous few seconds when Alex Chiasson almost scored on a wide-open net, but P.K. Subban swooped in at the last minute and swatted the puck away from the goal mouth.
From there on out, there wasn't a dull moment. Bobby Ryan nearly scored the Senators' second goal before Plekanec and Pacioretty took penalties in rapid succession, and the Habs were forced to kill a 5-on-3 without two of their most effective penalty killers.
Lars Eller, Tomas Fleischmann, and Petry were instrumental in killing off the first half of the penalties, and then it was the Brian Flynn show. He threw himself in front of at least two shots, and was personally responsible for sending the puck all the way down the ice to allow the Canadiens' strength to increase to four.
Not to be outdone,stepped out of the box and proved that he can kill penalties better without a stick than most of the players in the league can with one. He took away passes with his positioning alone, and fearlessly threw himself down to perfectly stop a point shot as the Bell Centre faithful stood and roared their approval.
There were some tense moments after that, but, by and large, the game's result became increasingly clear, crystallized after Mark Stone was sent off for skating through Tokarski. The Sens pulled their goalie with about 1:30 left, and that's how the game ended.
The Habs finally gave Tokarski decent run support in the 3-1 win, and he in turn provided some truly stellar goaltending.
The Senators are notorious for giving up the most shots in the league, and we saw why last night. Pacioretty had eight, Desharnais and Plekanec had five apiece, while Weise, Beaulieu, and Flynn had four.
The "second line" trio of Eller, Galchenyuk, and Weise had some iffy defensive moments. Given how much better Eller and Galchenyuk were with a player like Sven Andrighetto, here's to hoping that experiment is short lived.
The ice time was still a disaster, but the Habs were so dominant it didn't burn them. At least the top five players were the ones you'd want leading the team. Let's just say that one day a white-hot Nathan Beaulieu will not be playing fewer minutes than an uninspiring Alexei Emelin.
If Tokarski can continue this strong play, he and Condon may well be able to keep the Habs afloat until Carey Price returns. He sure looked good tonight.
Brian Flynn was phenomenal in the 12:52 he played. He provided offence and defence and everything in between. Not bad for a guy Marc Bergevin acquired for a fifth-round pick.
The Edmonton Oilers gave the Habs Jeff Petry for peanuts. And then he signed for six years. Bergevin is pretty incredible.
Jarred Tinordi needs to play.
Heading into some of their toughest weeks of the season, and still down Price and Gallagher, the Habs needed this win to set themselves straight before their next game against the San Jose Sharks. It'll be very interesting to see how they fare against the powerhouses of the West.