Canadiens vs. Senators game recap: Regression rocks!

The Montreal Canadiens started the season with almost comically bad luck, but have started finding their scoring touch.

The Ottawa Senators welcomed the Montreal Canadiens to their home rink for a Monday night matchup, but which Habs team would show up? The 2017-18 season has not been easy for the Canadiens, who seem to be able to generate a lot of shots but until recently haven’t been successful at putting many goals on the board.

Fortunately, the confidence and finish Montreal exhibited on Saturday was still alive and well, as the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge exploded for eight goals, handing the Ottawa Senators an 8-3 loss. It was just the Sens’ second regulation-time loss of the year.

The last time the Canadiens scored eight or more was in December of 2016 when they punished the Colorado Avalanche 10-1.

The game got off to a rocky start for the Habs, when former Canadiens’ forward Tom Pyatt scored an early goal for the Sens. Pyatt jumped on a loose puck in the high slot a mere 21 seconds in to the game and fired a wrist shot off Al Montoya and in. The play began behind Montoya’s net, with Nate Thompson and Alexandre Burrows vying for the puck against Phillip Danault and Brandon Davidson. The puck finally came free from the pack, sent into open ice near the faceoff dots, and Pyatt wired it into the Habs’ net.

Three minutes later, the Canadiens received a chance to knot things up, as Johnny Oduya was assessed a two-minute minor for cross-checking Paul Byron. The man advantage would pay off, and yield a long-awaited first NHL goal for Charles Hudon.

Hudon, who has been a goal-scorer at every level he’s played but hadn’t snapped one in an NHL game, shot a wrister short-side on Craig Anderson to tie the game at 1-1. It’s worth noting that as he streaked into Ottawa territory, Hudon deked Norris Trophy-winner Erik Karlsson off his skates — certainly a first goal worth remembering for the Alma, QC native. Jeff Petry and Montoya collected assists on the play.

Soon after Hudon’s goal, defenceman Victor Mete was called for holding when he slowed up Ryan Dzingel, sending Ottawa on the power play for two minutes or less. During the man advantage, however, it would be Habs’ captain Max Pacioretty who would score for his team, putting the Canadiens ahead 2-1.

As Anderson skated behind his cage to make a play, he was surprised by Pacioretty, who stripped the goalie of the puck and beat him to the front of the net, giving the sniper a wide-open shot for the lead. The goal, Pacioretty’s seventh career shortie, was unassisted.

Less than a minute later, and with Mete still in the penalty box, Ryan Dzingel would even things back up with a special-teams goal of his own. The Senators set up their power-play unit and were moving the puck effectively around the Habs’ end. Mike Hoffman released a quick unassuming shot towards the net, and Dzingel tipped the puck past Montoya to make it a 2-2 game. Hoffman and rookie Chris DiDomenico collected assists on the PPG.

Not content with a two-goal effort in the first period, Montreal would strike again after the halfway mark of the first, when Artturi Lehkonen notched his first of the season. Lehkonen created a neutral-zone turnover and then completed a beautiful give-and-go exchange between himself and Jonathan Drouin.

Lehkonen tipped a puck to himself at centre ice and the forward trio sped into action. Paul Byron beat everyone to set up shop in Anderson’s crease while Lehkonen passed to the unexpected player, Drouin, who returned the puck right to his winger. Lehkonen made no mistake with his shot, sending the Habs back ahead 3-2.

Hudon capped off a high-scoring first by scoring his second career goal. After Shea Weber’s point blast bounced off the boards behind the net, the puck happened onto the stick of Hudon, who impressively roofed the puck with a backhand shot in close quarters. Weber picked up his second assist of the night, while Tomas Plekanec collected his first A of the season on the play.

Both teams showed a bit of frustration with one another towards the end of the period, starting to jostle with each other between whistles. The Senators registered 11 shots on net to the Habs’ 7, though both teams were equal with a total of 19 shot attempts.

Early in the second period, Max McCormick set off a chain of events that would see himself receive 14 minutes’ worth of penalties and also get Torrey Mitchell and Michael McCarron in the penalty box. In the end, nothing severe happened on the ice — nor the scoreboard — while the players were penalized.

At the game’s midway point, with Hudon serving a slashing penalty , Christopher DiDomenico inched the Sens back into the game with a power-play goal.

Once again Ottawa’s PP setup locked up the Canadiens’ penalty killers with solid puck movement. Taking an Erik Karlsson feed down low in the slow, DiDomenico attempted a cross-crease pass, only to have the puck deflect off Karl Alzner and into Montreal’s net, bringing the score to 4-3 in favour of the Habs.

This would be the end of the Senators’ scoring for the night, though Montreal still had some offence left in the tank. Two quick goals finish off the second period with the Canadiens in charge of the momentum and boasting a 6-3 lead.

First, with just over two minutes remaining, Jordie Benn did his best impression of Andrei Markov with a laser pass from deep in his own end to a streaking Alex Galchenyuk, speeding towards the Sens’ net. Left alone and unchallenged in front of the goalie, Galchenyuk kept it simple, sped forward and quickly released a snapper over Anderson’s glove. The goal was the forward’s fourth of the year, and first at even strength.

Brendan Gallagher scored again with 30 seconds left on the clock. Karlsson tried to keep the puck in Montreal’s zone, but Gallagher stole it from the all-star defender, fooled him with a spin-o-rama and left Karlsson behind the play. Gallagher started a give-and-go with Danault in the neutral zone and rushed Anderson’s net, going across the crease from right post to left post, out-waiting the goalie for his fourth goal of the year.

Craig Anderson finished the second period, but didn’t return to the ice for the final frame, letting former Canadiens netminder Mike Condon finish the game. Both teams added eight shots on net in the second, though Ottawa began attempting more shots as the Habs’ lead got bigger.

Early in the third, Gallagher once again showed his strength and skill along the boards by outplaying Dzingel and taking the puck away from him, starting a two-on-one rush into Senators’ territory. Gallagher waited for centreman Tomas Plekanec to be optimally located for a setup pass, and neither player missed their mark on the play. The goal was Plekanec’s second of the year, and both Gallagher and Hudon were credited with assists, their second and third points of the night, respectively.

Montreal’s eighth and final goal was scored by Artturi Lehkonen, whose personal scoring drought came to a close with a two-goal night on Monday. Lehkonen helped create a turnover in his defensive zone and shipped the puck to Shea Weber. Weber, not unlike Benn’s earlier pass, torpedoed the puck up centre ice to Paul Byron, who used his speed to break free and take a couple of shots at Condon. The second rebound popped loose and Lehkonen had joined the fray in time to easily and calmly send the puck into the net, which incidentally also sent any remaining Senators fans home for the night.

The Canadiens kept the pressure on, defying score effects to maintain a healthy dose of shots right to the final whistle. The team now has won three of its last four games, scoring a total of 18 goals in that span, signalling perhaps their luck and bad PDO are returning to a balanced state.

Only time will tell if this keeps up, adding confidence and momentum to a team that desperately needed it only a short time ago. The Habs will be back in action on Thursday night when they travel to the Twin Cities to take on the Minnesota Wild.

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