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Canadiens @ Senators game recap: Keith Kinkaid earns shutout in first full game

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Kinkaid held the fort at one end, while the power play went to work at the other.

NHL: SEP 21 Preseason - Canadiens at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With victories in each pre-season game they’ve played so far, the last two requiring some late heroics from rookie forwards, the Montreal Canadiens traveled to Ontario to take on the Ottawa Senators. A few prospects had survived the first round of cuts earlier in the day, and were back in action on Saturday night.

Nick Suzuki had an early chance to make another big impression while playing on Montreal’s top line with Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar. With a leading pass getting a bit too far out of reach, he batted the puck on net, but had it stopped by Craig Anderson.

It was one of the few open chances Montreal had in the first period. The Senators, as young as their lineup was, were playing a very engaged, tight-checking style. That not only limited the Canadiens’ offensive chances, but had Ottawa spending quite a bit of time in the attacking zone.

The style of play from the Senators began to earn them several power plays as Montreal seemed to be caught off guard by the level of competition. Claude Julien saw that as a perfect opportunity to test the prospects in his lineup, sending out Suzuki, Jake Evans, and Cale Fleury in four-on-five situations to see if they could handle the pressure. With no goals surrendered while down a man in the period, they aced that test as well.

Fleury had other standout moments in the opening frame. In possession of the puck in his own end, he didn’t like what he saw from the formation in front of him, skated backward with the puck while being pressured by a forechecker, used the net to shake him off, and then started the breakout once again. He also spent two minutes of his own in the box after he took exception to Maxime Lajoie lining up Jesperi Kotkaniemi for an open-ice hit, grabbing the Sens defenceman along the boards moments later and wrestling him to the ice.

The third man advantage of the period for Ottawa lasted just a few seconds. While short-handed, Suzuki was part of a rush the opposite way, and forced Colin White to haul him down at the side of the net. He took Julien’s challenge of a two-minute penalty kill, and helped bring it to an end in 35 seconds.

Despite all the penalties, the teams were unable to find the space they needed to break out any real offence.

One of the hallmarks of the Canadiens’ 2018-19 season was the way the top line would respond on the first shift of the second period after a difficult first. With Suzuki taking Brendan Gallagher’s position last night, the result was nevertheless the same. Danault’s line burst out of the gate in the opening seconds, with Suzuki nearly capitalizing on the sudden pressure.

They brought the same intensity six minutes into the frame, earning the first full power-play chance of the night as Tatar was hooked. Running a four-forward unit, it was defenceman Jeff Petry who moved up into open space and beat Anderson for the opening goal.

Suzuki got his best chance of the night to put the puck in the net when Tatar’s quick stop inside the right circle forced the same from his defender the rush, opening up space for Danault right in the slot. Danault dished off to Suzuki from the top of the crease, and the prospect made a quick deke in front of the goalie to pull the puck to his backhand. In regular-season play, an NHL goaltender would probably have lunged across to block the path to the far post. In pre-season play, Anderson merely stuck out his right pad, leaving half the net exposed, and had Suzuki’s five-hole attempt hit him and stay out.

Anderson wasn’t so fortunate on a play soon afterward. The netminder attempted to pass the puck behind his net, but ended up hitting the cage and handing the puck to Riley Barber. Barber swung around the net and hit an onrushing Evans, who fired the puck in the net that Anderson was scrambling to defend.

The possession was heavily in Montreal’s favour in the middle period after the slog in the first, with little defending needed from the Habs defence as they got out to a 15-1 shot advantage in the frame. It wasn’t until late in the period that Ottawa got a proper look at an odd-man rush, but Otto Leskinen thwarted that with a strong defensive play before the chance could develop.

The Senators did begin to find more of a footing in the final few minutes, and were able to put the puck past Keith Kinkaid, but had to elbow the netminder in the head to do so. The referees weren’t about to let that stand, waving the goal off.

The flurry boosted Ottawa’s shot total, but Montreal took their 2-0 lead to the intermission.

It was Fleury’s turn to make a good defensive play early in the third. With a forward racing down the right wing, he easily pivoted and kept pace right on his hip, poking the puck away and getting the play turned back up ice.

Evans nearly had his second of the night when he outraced two defenders into the Senators’ end and took a pass to go in on goal. He got a backhand shot off, but Anderson’s third-period replacement, Joey Daccord, was able to make the save.

The young centre was able to be a factor on the Canadiens’ next goal. On another power play, he was standing directly in Daccord’s line of sight when Tatar took the puck on the half-wall, moved into open space around the right circle, and fired a shot through the screen for a 3-0 lead.

The Senators went right back in the box for bumping Kinkaid once again, but not for long. Thirty-nine second after the previous goal, and just five seconds into Brady Tkachuk’s goalie interference penalty, Danault got his stick on a Petry wrist shot to extend the lead to four.

Montreal had one final chance at a goal when Danault and Suzuki got in a two-on-one. Danault’s saucer pass seemed destined for Suzuki’s stick on the oppositie side of the ice, but a Senators defenceman got just enough to change the path and prevent Suzuki from accepting the puck in stride.

The end result was the four goals for Montreal — three of them on the power play — and none for Ottawa as Keith Kinkaid earned the shutout in his first full game wearing a Canadiens jersey. The netminder looked capable enough in the crease, especially considering it was his first competitive game action since February 19, making a few great saves on the night.

Montreal has Sunday off and is then back at the Bell Centre on Monday night to host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Thoughts

  • If I were the coach of the Canadiens, Nick Suzuki would have already secured his roster spot, and I’d be focusing my attention on evaluating other players for the remaining positions. He’s played every situation and not only hasn’t looked out of place, but been one of the best players on the ice each night.
  • We were saying similar things about Jesperi Kotkaniemi one year ago, seeing no reason for him not to be in the lineup, and plenty of promise that he could be a major benefit to the offensive game even at 18. We haven’t yet seen that player this training camp; one who makes a dazzling play on each shift. That part is also reminiscent of last season: in his early matches in the Rookie Tournament where he didn’t really stand out. It seems he needs more time than others to ramp up his play to an NHL level, and didn’t get that this time around. If the coaching staff feels the same way about the situation, they may decide to play him in each of the final three pre-season games to get him to the level we saw last year.