Saturday, January 22, 2011
10:08 AM Kamal Panesar No comments
The Montreal Canadiens were in Ottawa last night to take on the Senators, losers of five straight games at home—make that six after last night.
True to form the rapidly imploding Senators provided little resistance, allowing Montreal to score two goals before the four minute mark of the first period.
After Montreal missed on a few more scoring chances the Sens quickly turned things around, with Chris Kelly scoring his 10th of the season to cut the Habs' lead in half.
The Canadiens were actually outshooting the Sens 6-3 at one point in the first, but Ottawa turned the tables on them finishing the first period with a 12-6 shot advantage. In a period where the score could easily have been 4-0 Montreal, they ended up being lucky to escape with a 2-1 lead.
Fortunately for Habs fans, the Senators are just not a very good team right now and Montreal took advantage of that fact, scoring 1:16 and 5:33 into the second period and chasing Mike Brodeur from the net in the process—in favour of Brian Elliott.
Elliott didn't fare much better, and after the Habs' third goal it was all Montreal as the Canadiens blitzed the porous Ottawa defense to score goal after goal after goal.
Ottawa did have some occasional push back but Carey Price was there to shut the door each time they came knocking, sealing the blowout victory.
Final score: Habs 7 - Ottawa 1
Habs' scorers: Benoit Pouliot (10), Tomas Plekanec (15,16), Brian Gionta (16), Max Pacioretty (4), Andrei Kostitsyn (13), P.K. Subban (5)
Sens' scorers: Chris Kelly (10)
Three stars: 1. Tomas Plekanec, 2. Andrei Kostitsyn, 3. Carey Price
1. Andrei Kostitsyn came to play.
From the start of the game you could see that AK46 was once again fully engaged. Whereas Kostitsyn has the maddening ability to lose focus and look lost out on the ice, in recent games he seems like a new player.
Kostitsyn has actually looked good in every game since having a face-to-face meeting with Jacques Martin last week, and has four points (3G, 1A) and a plus-4 rating in his last four games.
Given that Kostitsyn tends to be a streaky player it is almost like fans are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Well that shoe may still drop but Andrei made sure it wasn't going to happen last night.
From the start of the game he looked fast, focused and furious, dolling out a few solid body checks, driving to the net with conviction and using his blistering fast release to cause havoc to create scoring chances.
Kostitsyn made a great play on Plekanec's first goal, stripping the Ottawa defender of the puck and centering it in the high slot to his centerman.
Almost more importantly than his production is the fact that Kostitsyn, for the first time in years, actually looks like he is enjoying himself. He looks happy out on the ice and that can only be a good thing for him and the team.
Oh and AK46, who was already leading the Canadiens with a plus-9 rating prior to last night's game, finished the game a plus-3.
He now leads all skaters with a plus-12.
2. Andres Engqvist looks real big out there.
OK, admit it, this was not the player you thought the Canadiens would recall this week.
Despite not being the odds on favorite to get a call up to Montreal, rookie Andres Engqvist made his NHL debut last night against the Sens. More importantly, he didn't look out of place and was a solid anchor to the Habs' fourth line with Ryan White and Travis Moen.
While Engqvist is known more as a defensive player, he does have some offensive upside. In addition, his 6'4" frame is a welcome addition to a Canadiens lineup that is desperately lack in size.
The big Swede played an excellent defensive game and used his huge size to add a much needed dose of thump to the Habs bottom-6. He even came close to scoring his first NHL goal by driving to the net and just missing a Ryan White rebound.
Paired with Travis Moen and White, Engqvist finished the night with 12:30 of ice time—1:07 short handed—and went six for twelve in the faceoff circle for an acceptable 50% efficiency rate.
Not a bad night's work for his first NHL game!
3. Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta are men of their words.
When Michael Cammalleri went down to injury this past week and news came out that he would be gone for a minimum of four weeks, the spotlight was quickly shone on Scott Gomez.
Mostly underwhelming since the beginning of the season, Gomez would need to pick up his game in Cammalleri's absence and provide a constant offensive spark for the second line.
To his credit, he and Gionta took time aside to discuss the matter together on the ice the next day, and they both agreed that they can, should and need to give more in Cammy's absence.
Elevate their games, as it were.
Now all athletes tend to say the right thing in a situation like this but to actually walk the walk is another matter altogether. So on the same day that former No.11 and Habs captain, Saku Koivu, was giving a press conference about his return to Montreal, the current No.11 decided to step up.
Last night, Gomez played his best game of the season and was involved, engaged and paying the price in all three zones. Along with Gionta and Max Pacioretty, the Habs' second line played with dogged determination all game and were rewarded with Gionta's 16th and Pacioretty's fourth goal of the season.
Their line finished the night with five points (2G,3A) and 10 of the Canadiens 35 shots on net. Also, Gomez went 8-5 in the faceoff circle for a scintillating 61.5% efficiency.
This line will have to continue to provide consistent performances like last night in order for the Canadiens to keep rolling in the absence of key players.
4. Speaking of elevating your game, Tomas Plekanec was sublime.
Playing a team high among forwards of 17:33 with 1:08 on the power play and 2:39 short handed, Plekanec finished the night with two goals, a plus-3 rating and six shots on net.
Plekanec continues to be the best player on the ice not named Carey Price, night in and night out. Moreover, he continues to get things done offensively as well as being the Canadiens' best defensive forwards.
Plekanec now has 38 points (16G, 22A) and a plus-10 rating in 47 games and has been the Canadiens' most consistent forward all season. Regardless of who he is playing with and whether they are streaking or slumping, Plekanec continues to answer the bell.
Last night, his first goal was a zinger from the high slot off a great pass from Kostitsyn, where he picked the top corner to beat Mike Brodeur. On his second goal, Plekanec picked Mike Fisher's pocket at the Canadiens blueline and skated in alone on Brian Elliott, firing a quick shot past the Sens netminder to make it 5-1 Montreal.
Plekanec continues to show that he is one of the best two-way players in the game by excelling on all situations and in all three zones. As such, as the playoffs get closer and the end of the season nears, his name has to be part of any Selke Trophy conversations.
5. The Sens are a team and organization in disrepair.
From their own, Eugene Melnyk, saying before the season that his team would be a competitive playoff team, to the constant coaching changes, to terrible free agents signings like Alex Kovalev and Sergei Gonchar, the Senators look like a team primed to hit the reset button.
The sad result of all the tumult behind the scenes is disarray on the ice and while you have to give full marks to the Canadiens for taking it to the Sens, Ottawa just looked horrible last night. They are simply not playing as a team and seemed to be employing more of an "every man for himself" scheme.
With everyone pulling in a different direction, disorganization, missed assignments and bad defensive zone coverage were the catch of the day. The result was, well, a blow out by the Canadiens who, before last night, were the fifth lowest scoring team in the league.
The Ottawa players truly look like they have quit on their coach and GM and are just waiting for them to be fired. If they keep playing like they did last night, their wish should come true soon enough.
Standings and Next Game
This win was huge for the Canadiens and not just because it was a blowout. The Habs, who have suddenly won six out of their last eight games, gained two precious points on the idle Boston Bruins, 4-2 losers the day before against the Sabres.
Montreal now has 58 points in the standings with a 27-17-4 record and they are within striking range of the third, fourth and fifth overall spots in the East.
Ahead of the Canadiens are the Capitals with 60 points, the Penguins with 62 points and the Bruins with 59 points and one game in hand.
Behind Montreal are the usual suspects; The Rangers with 57 points and one more game played, the Thrashers with 54 points and one more game played and the Hurricanes with 52 points and one game in hand.
Montreal returns home to take on the Anaheim Ducks at the Bell Centre tonight. This is a match that will feature the return of former Habs' captain, Saku Koivu, to Montreal for the first time since being let go as a free agent two years ago.
HabsTalk Roundup - Episode 4
Don't forget to check out the latest episode of HabsTalk Roundup!
Also, there's only one more week to enter the Team 990's Habs addict contest so get your entries in!
(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)