The Dominique Ducharme era hasn’t started the way many could have hoped for the Montreal Canadiens. Though the on-ice product did show improvement over their two games against the Winnipeg Jets, they left Manitoba with just one point out of a possible four. There were encouraging signs therein, but clearly still a lot of work to do in order to get where they want to be.
The team’s home record has been particularly problematic, so they took to Bell Centre ice for the first time against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday looking to reverse that trend and get their new coach his first win.
Another problematic aspect of these Habs has been their constant parade to the box. It didn’t take long for that problem to rear it’s ugly head, as Joel Armia would sit four minutes for a high stick. Ottawa had some quality chances early, but the Canadiens ultimately succeeded in killing the entire double-minor.
Outside of that, the first period was all Montreal. They were clearly the better team at five-on-five, and could have had at least a few on the board if not for some stellar goaltending from Joey Daccord. A scoreless frame, but an encouraging start for the Tricolore.
In the second period, Montreal would eventually get their own power play chance, and they would make the best of it. Very early in the minor penalty, Brendan Gallagher would find himself nearly alone out front, and scored despite being high-sticked in the process.
As a bonus for his efforts, Gallagher drew a double-minor against Erik Gudbranson, so the Habs were right back on the power play. The first half of that minor didn’t pay off, but in the second, Jeff Petry walked in from the right point and fired a perfect shot off the post and in to make it 2-0.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Habs game without their customary puck-over-the-glass penalty, which they took almost immediately after the Petry goal. Once more, they were able to execute a solid kill, and keep the score 2-0.
Also, a Habs versus Sens game must usually have a little ugliness. Austin Watson took a healthy run straight at the back of Jonathan Drouin in open ice, and the latter had to head off looking worse for wear. No call was made on the play, and though he left briefly, Drouin would end up finishing the game and looking healthy in the process.
Not long after the missed call, the Sens would reduce the deficit. After a weird play involving several incidental collisions, Artyom Zub found himself with more space than he could hope for, and walked in to beat Price and make it 2-1. And so we had ourselves a game heading into the third.
But the Canadiens kept convincing control of the game despite the late second-period goal. They controlled possession, limited Ottawa’s chances, and most importantly stayed out of the box. Though the penalty kill had been quite good on the night, they could scarcely afford to give the Senators an opportunity to get back in a g
Ottawa would eventually pull Daccord for the extra skater, but Tyler Toffoli was sent in alone on the empty net, and Montreal rewarded Dominique Ducharme with his first win in convincing fashion.
- In my opinion, Austin Watson should be suspended for his hit on Jonathan Drouin. It was a hit squarely to the numbers of a stationary player. Charging, and hitting from behind all in one. Of course, the department of player safety will likely rule it a hockey play because that’s about all they ever do. Hopefully Drouin has no lingering effects, as he did look good finishing the game afterwards.
- If the Habs could clone Artturi Lehkonen seven times, he would solve their penalty kill issues permanently. The hustle that he displays on the kill is impressive, and he had a major hand in disrupting anything the Senators tried to do when they had their chances. If the rest of the killers can take queues from him, they’ll keep being better on that front.
- Jesperi Kotkaniemi was unbelievable. He clocked in with an assist, at 72.00% Corsi-for at even strength, and he was a perpetual thorn in the Senators sides. When he’s on top of his game he’s not only hard to separate from the puck, he’s voracious in his efforts to take it from the opposition. He was at the top of his game last night, and it’s a great game for him to build off moving forwards.
- Speaking of players who will look to build from last night’s game... Carey Price has struggled of late, but he was relatively solid against Ottawa. I think he’d probably like a second crack at the Zub goal, though it wasn’t a glaringly bad one to let in. It was surprising to see him have some puck-handling issues, but overall a solid performance and hopefully a sign of things to come.
- Overall, you have to be encouraged with this showing. They dominated at 5-on-5, and though they ran into an impressive goaltender, their power play was able to pick up the slack. More often than not, a performance like that will get you the even-strength goals as well, so no need to change much heading into Thursday against the Jets.