After a week break due to COVID and then coming back to shut out the Edmonton Oilers, the Montreal Canadiens had to open a two-game series against their bogeyman, the Ottawa Senators. The Senators came into the game on a relative hot streak, having beaten the Calgary Flames twice and pushing Toronto into overtime before losing. They were also rested, having not played since that overtime loss last season.
The Canadiens made just one change to their winning lineup, inserting Jake Allen in place of Carey Price. With Eric Staal’s quarantine not finished until Sunday, it’s likely this iteration of the lineup is the one we’ll see for this series at least.
Unlike the game against Edmonton, Montreal wasn’t able to jump out to an immediate lead, despite Ottawa giving them the chance. A Chris Tierney turnover landed on the stick of Nick Suzuki, but the Habs forward rang his shot off the post. Jesperi Kotkaniemi repaid the favour at the other end of the ice, with a sloppy play behind the net teeing up a one-timer in the slot that Allen battled away to keep the game scoreless.
Then, the suddenly red-hot line of Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, and Phillip Danault did the thing they often do: take over the game. The hustle of Gallagher got the puck back in the Habs’ possession, and they made the most of it. Tatar left the puck along the boards for Gallagher, who fired a pinball shot on net, where Danault was crashing the crease. He just deflected the puck past rookie Filip Gustavsson for a Montreal lead.
It looked like the Habs were set to escape the first without much issue, and with a one-goal lead. However, when Jeff Petry blew a tire in the offensive zone he was forced to haul down Brady Tkachuk to prevent a breakaway chance for the Senators. It did result in a two-minute penalty, but a deft stick by Paul Byron and a smart pass to Jake Evans just barely missed making it a two-goal lead while short-handed. The horn sounded, allowing Montreal a chance to regroup, and kill off the remainder of the Senators power play to start the second period.
The domination on the penalty kill from Jake Evans and Paul Byron continued after the break. Evans’s hard pressure after an initial chance won him the puck, and as he worked from behind the net he fed a pass right to Byron. The speedy vet cut in front of the Senators net, lifting a backhand by Gustavsson to double the Montreal lead.
The Senators nearly got the goal back almost immediately with an odd-man rush opening up a chance for Tkachuk. The young Sens forward was just out of Joel Edmundson’s reach, but a brilliant paddle save by Allen deflected the puck wide through his crease, and kept the Montreal lead at two.
Montreal continued to dictate the flow as the period wore on, and twice in the final half they drew a penalty. On both occasions the man advantage had difficulty getting set up how it wanted, and once they did they struggled to put pucks into dangerous areas. Even with them failing to convert on the advantages, Montreal held firm control of the game as the teams went to the locker rooms with the Habs still holding onto their two-goal edge.
The Habs kept their foot down as the third period started, including Josh Anderson ringing a shot off the crossbar behind Gustavsson. Then it was Tomas Tatar making things happen once again with a relentless forecheck. His pressure forced the Senators into an errant clear that Victor Mete grabbed and dished off to Jake Evans. The rookie centre spun right around a Senator, throwing a puck right to the crease, and Corey Perry easily poked it home to push the lead to three goals.
The Habs’ attack continued to feast on Ottawa mistakes and soon increased the lead to four goals. Tatar’s hustle again allowed him to grab a 50/50 puck, pushing it along to Danault along the half-wall. Danault threw the puck to the front of the net and the effort of Gallagher allowed him to get his stick on the puck and tuck home his 14th goal of the year.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi was able to draw a roughing call against Nick Paul, putting Montreal on another power play late in the third period. The man advantage again yielded no goals, but helped to burn some precious time off the clock late in the game. When Nikita Zaitsev embellished a stick check from Artturi Lehkonen, he drew the ire of the Finn, but also the call from the referee as Lehkonen headed to the penalty box.
Because hockey is extremely unfair, the Senators cashed in on the power play, preventing the Habs from collecting a second straight shutout. It was far too little and far too late for the goal to have any impact on the game, and the Canadiens easily closed out the 4-1 win to seal their second victory this week.
Montreal and Ottawa will meet again on Saturday night, this time in Montreal, with Carey Price the expected starter for the Canadiens.