Ottawa Senators-Montreal Canadiens: Habs Dominate the First Period, then Fade
Montreal 1 Ottawa 3 (Bell Centre)
This could be a story about the night that Alex Kovalev returned to Montreal. On July 1, after Kovalev took too much time pondering an offer, Bob Gainey moved in another direction and signed Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri.
Tonight, Kovalev reminded the Bell Centre faithful of the good old days. Some of the confused Canadiens' fans even cheered for Kovalev's goal in the third period and were booing the home team a few minutes later.
Kovalev had a good night with a goal and an assist. But let there be no misunderstanding, consistency is no longer Alex's strength. He came into tonight with only two points in six games. As much as he can be admired for his time in Montreal, it was time for him to move on.
The Montreal chapter is closed on Alex Kovalev. And with respect to tonight's game, there are more significant things to discuss.
Let's start with coach Jacques Martin. We were told that with a new coach and a number of new players, patience would be required as the team built chemistry. Fans were willing to give Martin some time but that window is starting to close.
What is the identity of the team? Coach Martin says that he will deploy be a puck possession team. Fans have only seen brief glimpses of that style during the first seven games.
The Canadiens have difficulty breaking out of their own zone. They are not covering the hot zones in their own end or in neutral ice. Martin's effectiveness will start to be questioned as these should be teachable skills.
The most significant shortcoming for the Canadiens continues to be the play of their special teams. While Martin expressed confidence in his defensemen on the powerplay, it is clear that teams do not fear a shot from the point.
While the media looks forward to the arrival of Marc-Andre Bergeron, he is not the solution to the power-play. Bergeron is more of a setup guy than a trigger man on the point.
The turning point in tonight's game was the inability of the Canadiens to score on a 5-on-3 man advantage for 1:45 of the first period. The Senators effectively blocked most of the Habs shots.
In the first period, the Canadiens directed 38 shots at the Ottawa net. The Senators blocked 16 shots, the Habs missed the net nine times and Pascal Leclaire made 13 saves. In comparison, Ottawa had six shot attempts in total in the period.
Despite the Canadiens dominating play, the game was tied 1-1 after one period.
With the Habs taking a number of penalties in the second, they couldn't regain the momentum of the first. Once the Senators scored on their own five-on-three, the game was effectively over.
So what's coach Martin to do?
He needs to address the most pressing problems: breakouts, zone coverage and special teams.
He must also figure out how to best utilize his healthy defensemen. Shawn Belle is clearly not the answer.
The coach needs to rectify the disinterested play of the third line. The only time that Max Lapierre has been noticed all season is in the scrums after a stoppage. Lapierre needs to do more before the whistle and less after. Perhaps bringing up Ben Maxwell is a solution. Maxwell had a great training camp.
Martin can build from the positives. Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri and Scott Gomez can be dominant as evidenced by their first shift of the game. Cammalleri notched his first goal of the season tonight.
Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn continue to play well. Plekanec has probably been the Canadiens' most consistent forward this season.
Carey Price was solid again tonight. He didn't have a chance on the Senators goals and made some highlight reel saves to keep it close.
The Atlanta Thrashers will be at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night. Coach Martin doesn't have much time to find some answers.
Gomez, Gionta, Cammalleri
Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Pacioretty
Lapierre, Latendresse, D'Agostini
Chipchura, Laraque, Moen
Carey Price starts in goal for the Canadiens, Pascal Leclaire starts for the Senators.
Scratches: Stewart, Markov (ankle), Metropolit (ribs), O'Byrne (knee).
Rocket's three stars
1. Pascal Leclaire
2. Alex Kovalev
3. Mike Cammalleri
(photo credit: Getty images)
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