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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Montreal-Ottawa: Habs rally but fall short in 3-2 OT loss

Well, that was a much better effort, don't you think?

After stinking up the joint in back-to-back games last weekend, the Habs finally showed up for their Saturday afternoon tilt against the Senators. Unfortunately for the Habs, they ended up losing the game, 3-2, in overtime. Despite the loss, this was a heck of a good game. The speed and skill of both teams shone yesterday, and it made for an excellent spectacle.

Plekanec’s line in particular, with Sergei Kostitsyn on his wing, looked great right out of the gate. SK74 played probably his best game of the season by using his speed and skill, taking shots, making passes and even throwing his weight around. His best hit came in the third period when he leveled Jason Spezza with an open ice hit in the Sens zone.

Halak too looked his same cool confident self making great saves and looking like he wasn't breaking a sweat.

Kovalev, who was dancing last night, opened the scoring at 17:21 of the first, as he was left open on the side of the net to sweep in a Filip Kuba pass from the point.
While that was the only goal of the first, it certainly wasn't the only excitement as Ryan O'Byrne—who is quickly helping fans forget about a certain Mike Komisarek—lowered the boom on Milan Michalek in the Senators zone. The hit drew a crowd and resulted in offsetting minors.

The second period took on a different look as the Senators took the play to the Canadiens. At around the midpoint of the period, Gill was called for high sticking allowing Spezza to tip in his ninth of the season off a Filip Kuba shot, with Michalek screening Halak, to make it 2-0.

While the Habs weakness 5-on-5 was evident all night, their special teams continued to be special. After the second Sens goal, the Habs responded by ratcheting things up themselves. With their third line on the ice and causing havoc in the Sens zone, Matt Carkner hooked Travis Moen for the Habs first powerplay of the game, and they capitalized. Benoit Pouliot, who was parked in front of the crease, finished off a nice criss-crossing passing sequence from Cammy to Pleks to Pouliot and in. The goal was Pouliot's 13th of the season and it made it a one goal hockey game.

There was a brief intermission in the third as the glass was knocked off of the boards on a solid Pouliot hit. Speaking of big hits, there was a scary moment for the Habs as Anton Volchenkov nailed a streaking Cammalleri about three feet away from the boards. Cammy went flying into the boards and his leg seemed to buckle under him. He left the ice in considerable pain and was not able to put any weight on his leg.

Here is the clip of the hit:


Cammalleri was in a leg brace after the game with suspected knee/MCL problems. He was scheduled to have an MRI ,and we should know more on the injury today or tomorrow. Suffice it to say that if he is out for anything more than a game or so, it will turn out to be a huge loss for the team.

While the shots were pretty even through the first two periods, it was clear that the Sens had dominated the game to that point.
Things changed in the third when Chris Kelly took a high-sticking penalty on Maxim Lapierre allowing the Habs powerplay to go to work again. With less than three minutes to go in the game, Markov made a cross-ice pass to Plekanec who shuttled the puck to Gionta in the slot who tapped the puck in for his fourteenth goal of the season. The goal tied that game at two and swung the momentum back into the Canadiens hands.

The Habs had a bunch of shots but couldn't score, ultimately sending the game into OT. After Hall Gill had hauled down Jason Spezza to give the Sens an overtime powerplay and after Spezza had pushed Hamrlik's fallen stick away from him, negating the man-advantage, Mike Fisher finished the Habs off with a beautiful play.

Picking up a loose puck in the neutral zone, Mike Fisher drove hard to the net swinging to the outside of Markov, swept from left to right on Halak and jammed it past him for the OT winner. Senators 3, Canadiens 2.

The win was a franchise record ninth consecutive for the Senators, while the loss was a third in a row for Montreal. But at least the Habs got one point out of it and can say that they played a strong road game. They came close, but as the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.


Game Notes:
1. Halak is the Habs' No. 1 goalie. If it wasn't apparent up till now, Halak has grabbed the reigns of the No. 1 goalie seat and is running with it. Game after game after game after game, Halak is calm, cool and collected. He makes excellent saves to keep his team in the game, is outstanding positionally in the net, and overall looks like he is a first string goaltender.

If there is one fault to Halak's game, it is that his rebound control is not the best. He often puts the puck right back into the slot, often resulting in additional scoring chances or goals against. That is one aspect where Price is better than Halak, as he is always steering the rebounds into the corner or smothering the puck.

2. Pouliot continues to impress. With his goal last night, Pouliot now has 12 points (11G, 1A) in 18 games with the Canadiens. The thing I like the most about him is that he is always around the net. He is using his considerable 6'3" frame to make room for himself and his teammates on the ice. Last night he continued to get involved physically, throwing his weight around and driving to the net whenever he could. He was rewarded for his hard work by scoring the Habs first goal of the game from the crease. It's good to finally have a pseudo power forward on this team.

3. Sergei Kostitsyn likely played his best game of the season. From the start of the game, SK74 looked like a great compliment to Plekanec and Cammalleri. As such, the Habs had two attacking lines for the first time in a long time. Sergei was moving his feet and using his head, a combination that usually results in good things for the youngster. While he has looked lazy at certain points this year, he certainly seems to have turned it up on the first line, and not a moment too soon.

4. Will Gainey be forced to make a deal if Cammalleri's injury is long term? With 26 games left in the season and with so many tough games to go, the Habs season could very well be decided over the next few weeks. If the Habs have to play the next month with Andrei Kostitsyn (injured, out six weeks) AND without Cammalleri, they will be dead in the water. So, will Gainey be forced to make a deal? Will it be before the Olympic break? Will it be after? You'd have to think that he needs to make a deal sooner rather than later, but with Gainey, you never know what he has planned.

5. Mike who? With every game that passes, Ryan O'Byrne is asserting himself more and more on the ice. He has taken the role of mean, intimidating defenseman over from Komisarek as his throws he weight around and isn't afraid to drop the gloves. In addition, he is quietly becoming much more reliable with his defensive responsibilities. Being paired with Andrei Markov can't hurt either. I mean look what it did for Komisarek!


Standings and Next Game:
The Habs, after yesterday's game, are in the eighth overall spot in the East with 56 points. With 26 games left in the season, the Habs likely need 90-plus points to make the playoffs. That means they need 34 points over their final 26 games, or approximately 1.3 points per game. This, for a team that is averaging 1.0 points per game. This feat is not impossible, but if the Habs have any chance of making it, they must ride Halak as much as possible. The time for playing favorites has long passed as each game from here to the end of the season is a playoff game.

The Habs hold on eighth place is tenuous with Boston, Tampa, Florida and the Rangers all having 54 points and holding three, three, two and one game in hand, respectively. Just ahead of the Habs is Atlanta, also with 56 points but holding two games in hand, and Philly with 57 points and three games in hand. It doesn't take a math whiz to see that the Habs could easily fall far down the standings if their competition capitalizes on their games in hand.

The Habs have two days off before taking on the Canucks, in Montreal, on Tuesday night.

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