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Canadiens vs. Senators game recap: One step back

After two strong games, Montreal suffered a misstep on Saturday night.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

A red-hot Montreal Canadiens team rolled back into the Bell Centre on Saturday night for a rematch with the Ottawa Senators. On Thursday, Montreal ran roughshod over their division rivals, claiming an easy 4-1 victory with Jake Allen in the net. It was a strong showing from the suddenly resurgent top line, and a solid performance from the defence as the Habs continued to march through their condensed schedule.

On Saturday they welcomed their leading goal-scorer, Tyler Toffoli, to the lineup, settling him on a line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Artturi Lehkonen. In the starter’s net was Carey Price, looking to build on his dominant March performances that culminated in a shutout win over the Oilers on Tuesday night.

To say that things started poorly for Montreal is underselling it by quite a bit. Brendan Gallagher was whistled for high-sticking Josh Norris, drawing blood and therefore a four-minute penalty to kill. Shea Weber mishandled a puck while attempting to clear the zone on the Sens’ power play, and Drake Batherson took advantage. He passed down low to Brady Tkachuk, who was able to move right to the front of the net and slide the puck by Carey Price for an early Ottawa lead.

The Habs managed to kill off the second part of Gallagher’s penalty, and Corey Perry himself drew a high-sticking call at the other end of the ice, putting Montreal on their first power play of the night. It looked like Montreal’s second unit anchored by Shea Weber were struggling to generate much in the way of a dangerous attack in the Ottawa zone, however a favourable bounce allowed Nick Suzuki to push the puck across to Toffoli, who in turn fired off a quick shot that beat Anton Forsberg top shelf to tie the game at a goal apiece.

Montreal’s relentless forecheck came back to life following Toffoli’s goal, with Lehkonen stealing a sloppy pass in the offensive zone and creating a scoring chance out out thin air. Then it was Brendan Gallagher drawing a hooking call as he rushed to the net to try to cash in on an odd-man rush, putting the Habs back on the man advantage.

Despite Weber uncorking a 110-mph slapshot, the power play really failed to generate a meaningful attack, but was almost immediately given another shot as Nikita Zaitsev was sent to the box for tripping. In response to this the Habs gave up an odd-man short-handed rush that Price couldn’t cover and Connor Brown lifted the rebound home to put Ottawa back in the lead.

The remainder of the first saw no more goals, but did see Tkachuk take exception to Weber bullying him around a bit. After an exchange of slashes and cross-checks the two dropped the gloves in a brief fight, ending with the net nearly toppling onto Price. After the opening 20 minutes the Canadiens trailed by a goal, but looked to be picking up some steam headed into the second period.

It was Ottawa who came out strong in the second period, however, turning Montreal’s errors into multiple odd-man rushes, and even a breakaway chance. Thankfully, Price was up to the task, keeping the Sens’ lead at just one as his team struggled to get its legs going.

After a lunging pad save on Clark Bishop, the puck quickly turned up ice, and after the Sens failed to clear their lines it bit them immediately. Jesperi Kotkaniemi picked up the failed clearing attempt, slinging a pass to a fresh Josh Anderson, who sniped one far corner by Anton Forsberg to tie the game.

The Senators took the lead back less than a minute later, with Thomas Chabot having his point shot deflected home by Evgenii Dadonov as Weber was caught behind the Habs’ net.

Things did not improve for the Canadiens after that, with Gallagher appearing to injure himself while finishing a check. He left immediately for the Canadiens’ locker room, and as the play went the other way Dadonov was left all alone in front of Price to easily convert his second goal of the night.

The tide did turn a bit in the closing minutes of the period thanks to another outstanding effort from Anderson. The big winger had replaced Gallagher on the top line, and off an offensive-zone draw Anderson picked up a pass from Weber, fought through two Ottawa players, fired a shot, got his own rebound to rifle past Forsberg to get Montreal back within a goal.

A late delay of game penalty presented a massive chance for the Habs to end the period, and while they didn’t convert, they had an abbreviated power play to start the third period on fresh ice.

The power play once again yielded nothing for them, but as was the case all night, the next major Senators chance went in the net. Kotkaniemi broke up a centring feed, but Alex Formenton got enough to chip the puck on net, where it deflected off of Artem Anisimov and beyond Price to restore Ottawa’s two-goal lead. A late power play didn’t do much to push Montreal back into the game, and an empty-net goal sealed the 6-3 win for Ottawa.

The Canadiens now go back to the drawing board ahead of their game with Edmonton on Monday, when it is expected that Eric Staal will make his Habs debut.