Brendan Gallagher was suffering from headaches and was confirmed out ahead of the game, meaning that newly acquired Ilya Kovalchuk once again stepped onto the first line to pair up with Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar. Matthew Peca was back in the lineup for the first time in a month, flanking Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the third line. On defense, Ben Chiarot missed his second game in a row with a lower-body injury, meaning that the same six defenders who started against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night would get a new chance to operate. There were large contrasts in the netminding game, where Montreal started Carey Price and Ottawa started Swedish sophomore Marcus Hogberg, with just 12 career NHL games before Saturday.
After an even start Dylan DeMelo crosschecked Max Domi, and with that he sent Montreal on the man advantage. Being without Gallagher, Paul Byron, Joel Armia and Jonathan Drouin, the Habs still managed to produce one of the best-looking power plays of the whole year. The puck went from player to player as if on a string, before ending with Nick Suzuki scoring his ninth of his rookie season, assisted by Jeff Petry and Tatar.
Nick Cousins became the first and only Montreal player to visit the box in the first period as he received a crosschecking minor. However, Ottawa only got 23 seconds to try to capitalize on their first power play before Drake Batherson evened the strength out with a hook on Artturi Lehkonen.
Batherson had a rough first period. Right as he was entering the game again, having served his two-minute minor, he reached with the stick to try to stop a Montreal attack before having fully exited the box. giving the referees no choice but to send him right back in for interference.
Lehkonen, Kovalchuk, Danault, and Suzuki each had opportunities to double the lead for the guests before the break, but either the shots went just beside the net or Hogberg was in the way. The score remained 1-0 until the end of the period.
Midway through the second, Brady Tkachuk got annoyed by Victor Mete’s presence in the crease and chose to crosscheck the defenceman into Price, with an interference penalty following. Unfortunately, the positive flow from the first power play was nowhere to be seen, and instead Chris Tierney had a chance to equalize when he broke through alone from mid-ice. Price stopped the effort and held tight on his shutout bid.
Ottawa took over through the course of the second, making Price and Montreal’s vulnerable defence work hard to prevent losing a lead once again. The two earlier games this week have both followed the same pattern, with Montreal in the lead to end the second period and then a turnaround in the third for the worse.
Montreal, coming into Saturday with a league-high 35 shots per game on average, had difficulties getting opportunities on offence, resulting in only 16 shots fired against Hogberg throughout the first 40 minutes of play. There were more chances to be had, but most shots seemed to have a tendency to wind up wide of the net, making Hogberg’s night considerably easier.
Marco Scandella and Tierney got sent to the box simultaneously early in the third, creating a two-minute four-on-four. The best scoring chance during these minutes went to former Hab Mikey Reilly, playing the Canadiens for the first time since the trade. Price was awake and managed to block the shot from the point.
Minutes later, Tierney drew a new penalty on a Canadiens player. This time Mete was the perpetrator and Tierney did not have to accompany him to the penalty box. Yet again, Montreal’s usually fragile penalty kill came up strong and killed off the two minutes meritoriously.
The penalty kill would have to continue to play on top of their level as Tatar got called for holding shortly afterword. Ottawa was closing in on double the amount of shots as their guests. Price, however, demonstrated a confidence that has been lacking during the start of the new year, stopping every effort and getting by with a little help from his friends.
It eventually took a Montreal Canadiens player to tie the game up. Batherson got credited with the goal that was steered toward the net by Peca’s stick to fool Price. If a single goal could summarize the Habs’ season so far, this had to be it.
Struggling offensively and now needing another goal, matters became even more difficult when Scandella got penalized for the second time in less than 20 minutes, this time for tripping up Reilly. While being one man down, Montreal could actually have settled matters. On a surprising breakaway, Ryan Poehling and Nate Thompson came in two-on-one against Hogberg and a lone Senators defenceman. After passing back and forth, Poehling gave Thompson a chance for a simple put-in from close distance, but yet again the shot failed to go.
Just as it had the two times earlier this season, a game between Montreal and Ottawa went to overtime. Kovalchuk got a first-class opportunity for his first goal in a Habs jersey, getting left alone from mid-ice during a botched Senators line change. The young Swedish netminder read the effort and stopped a fairytale ending.
With less than a minute left of overtime, the Russian sniper would get a second chance. Getting into the offensive zone on the left side, one-on-one against a forward, Batherson, playing defence, Kovalchuk slowed down, making everyone believe he would pass to a surging Danault on the other side. Instead, he demonstrated that marksman-like wrist shot that has made him feared by the world’s premier goaltenders for nearly two decades. The shot went off the far post and in, creating havoc among both the Canadiens players and the fans at Canadian Tire Centre. The relief in Kovalchuk’s eyes as the puck went in truly was priceless to see. As was the joy among his teammates when they congratulated him.
Next, the Habs will return home to the Bell Centre for an outing against the Calgary Flames on Monday night. With this win, Montreal ended their second eight-game losing streak this season. Let us hope that we won’t have to endure yet another one of these anytime soon.