Two nights after getting shutdown and shutout by the New Jersey Devils, the Montreal Canadiens were in Ottawa to return that same favour to the Senators.
Outplaying the Senators for large stretches of the game and outshooting them 34-19 in the process, the Habs won the game on the backs of two goals by Andrei Kostitsyn and a shutout by Carey Price.
The Sens, who had play the night before against Buffalo, brought a physical game to the table in the first ten minutes of the game but fatigue quickly took over and they couldn’t muster much offense—as their four first period shots can attest. Fatigue aside, the Sens just didn’t look like a very cohesive team on the ice, lead by the freestyling-solo-act of Alex Kovalev, who has one assist and is a minus-five over eight games.
The Sens had a stronger forecheck in the second period but Price was solid and made several spectacular saves to preserve the Habs’ 1-0 lead. By the third period, with the Habs leading 3-0, they settled into their 1-2-2- trap which allows the Sens to have much more puck possession time in the Canadiens’ zone. Oddly, though, which the Sens had a lot of puck possession in the Habs zone, showed lots of movement, made a lot of passes, they ultimately had few shots and even fewer scoring chances. When they did, Price was there to make the save.
Final Score: Habs 3 – Sens 0
Habs scorers: Andrei Kostitsyn (3,4), Benoit Pouliot (1)
Sens scorers: None
Three stars: 1. Andrei Kostitsyn 2. Carey Price 3. P.K. Subban
Price solid again…
Even when his teammates had stopped skate and were sitting back in their 1-2-2 trap for the entire third period, Price still maintained his focus. This was evidenced by his save on Daniel Alfredsson’s partial break with 1:39 to play in the game. On the play, Price cut down the angle, gave the shooter nothing to look at and calmly made the save.
Overall, his body language while in the net is much calmer and balanced than it used to be. He doesn’t get too high when he makes a great save and doesn’t get too low when he lets in a goal.
Last night was Price’s first shutout since November 11, 2008 ironically also against the Senators.
Kostitsyn’s hot start continues
Kostitsyn’s two goals, plus-two rating and three shots on goal give him a total of six points (four goals, two assists) a plus-three rating, and 21 shots on goal—third to Brian Gionta’s 28 and Michael Cammalleri’s 26. Moreover, his chemistry with Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec is stupendous.
Plekanec did all of the work on AK46′s first goal, as he drew both Ottawa players towards him and one-handing the puck to Kostitsyn in the high slot. AK46 made no mistake of that opportunity and roofed the puck over Elliot for a 1-0 lead. That goal demonstrated the incredible skill and vision that Plekanec has but also showed that maybe AK46 is learning how to be in the right place at the right time.
Kostitsyn’s second goal was scored in a similar manner with Cammalleri driving to the net and Kostitsyn picking up the loose puck on the side and firing it past the Sens goalie.
With the shot he has, if he can continue to find the open seem he will be a force on that top line all season long.
3. Lars Eller finally played as a center. Yay!
However he played center on the fourth line with Travis Moen and Mathieu Darche. Boo!
Since the beginning of the season I have thought that Eller should be playing his natural position of center. However I thought he would be a good fit as the third line center on this team playing with maybe Maxim Lapierre and Dustin Boyd. So far, Jacques Martin has seen fit to play him as a winger on the third line.
While Eller has shown a few flashes of brilliance out there, he is not getting enough ice time and does not look entirely comfortable playing the wing.
Last night, Martin moved him to the wing, but on the fourth line with Moen and Darche which makes no sense to me. Eller’s skill level and vision as a centerman are lost on Moen and Darche neither of whom have the speed or the skill to keep up with Eller. As a result, Eller was once again relatively invisible last night. I still maintain that if he is going to play on the wing it should be in the top six. Failing that, he should be the third line center or sent down to Hamilton to get a ton of ice time. He is just not being well utilized in Montreal so far.
4. Subban played his best game in a Habs uniform.
Taking and giving punishing body checks, making outstanding defensive plays, showing excellent position and speed, and making a great first pass, Subban played like a stalwart on the back end. He was and is easily the Habs best defenseman right now and, in Andrei Markov’s absence, his abilities are sorely needed.
Subban is clearly being targeted by the opposition and he is neither backing down nor getting intimidated. That being said, it would be nice to see a guy like Moen go after some of these guys to give P.K. a little more breathing room.
Subban is too important to the team to have to be fighting and scuffling with the opposition. Someone on his team needs to help him out in that department. That aside, he was simply outstanding last night. One assist, four hits, a plus-one rating, four shots on goal and a number of blocked shots—but none more painful than the Chris Campoli slapper off of his ankle.
If Subban keeps playing like he did last night, the Habs defense will become formidable once Andrei Markov is back in a week or so.
5. The power play was again powerless.
The Habs look lost on the power play, pure and simple. Watching their play with the man-advantage, they are looking around and don’t know who to pass to, don’t know whether to shoot or not, and are never in the right position.
When there is an opportunity to shoot from the point, there is no one in front of the net. When there is a cross-ice pass attempt, it is always picked off or block. Even shots from the point rarely get through.
The result is that the Habs are not able to move and disrupt the opposition’s box and as a result, get few to no scoring chances. The closest they came to a pp goal was when Pouliot scored his sigh-of-relief-inducing first goal of the season four seconds after the power play expired. That goal was the result of a flubbed shot by Josh Gorges that missed the net and bounced off of the back boards to Pouliot for the tap-in.
Boy do these guys need Markov back to help revive a flatlined power play. The good news is that they have still been winning without the power play which is now 1-for-20 for a five percent efficiency rate. Ouch.
6. The second line is still running with a flat tire
Let me just start by saying that “trying” Tom Pyatt on the wing with Scott Gomez and Gionta is foolish. For all his speed and tenacity, Pyatt does not have the finish to play in the top six.
For their parts, Gionta is still leading the team in shots on goal but only have one goal to show for it.
Gomez, on the other hand, must be focusing too much on Halloween because he is doing a great job of playing the invisible man. He is the biggest problem with that line right now and until he gets going there is little that the coach can do to create a spark.
Is it time to split up the Gionta-Gomez duo and try something completely different?
Standings and Next Game
The win gives the Canadiens a 4-2-1 record good for nine points and a share of first place in their division with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Habs now come back to Montreal where they will face the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night at the Bell Center.