Canadiens-Senators: Brilliant Special Teams Lead Habs to Win
Montreal 4 Ottawa 1 (Scotiabank Place)
posted by Rocket
Early this season, on these pages, it was forecasted that Canadiens fans were in for a rollercoaster of a ride following this team. Not to say we told you so, but is there a better way to describe the path of the Habs?
Even recently, the Habs were shutout by the Leafs and then dominated the Bruins. Last night, the Canadiens limited the Flyers to 15 shots on goal. Tonight, the Senators managed 46 shots.
So what is going on?
The inconsistency is a combination of many things: injuries, changing personnel, and players trying to adapt to a new system. But perhaps the biggest reason is that Jacques Martin's system is passive and reactive. The style of play is often dictated by the opposition.
Tonight, Ottawa was in the mood to shoot. The Senators outshot the Habs 13-to-5 in the first period. Despite the disparity, scoring chances were about even. The Canadiens held a 1-0 lead after one period as Mike Cammalleri converted a two-on-one feed from Tomas Plekanec.
Ottawa tied the game early in the second period. Mike Fisher was left all alone in front with Josh Gorges caught out of position off chasing the puck. Gorges has not been playing good positional hockey since the Washington game.
About a minute later, the Canadiens took the first of their seven minor penalties.
It was up to the penalty-killers to keep the game close by shutting down the Ottawa power play. They killed off Georges Laraque's two-minute minor. They would repeat the feat six more times during the game.
Plekanec and Travis Moen were up front on the first wave of the penalty-killing unit, followed by the pairing of Scott Gomez and Sergei Kostitsyn. Roman Hamrlik, Ryan O'Byrne, Hal Gill, and Gorges were on defense. All were superb.
The Canadiens have now killed off 22 straight penalties in December.
Perry Pearn, Montreal's assistant coach, credited the the penalty-killers for not giving up many second shot opportunities, and for playing with desperation.
It was left then for the other component of the Canadiens' special teams, the power play, to do its part. The Habs scored two power-play goals on three opportunities. Marc-Andre Bergeron and Andrei Kostitsyn were the goal scorers with Plekanec assisting on both, giving him three for the game.
"Plecks is playing really well," said his linemate, Cammalleri. "He's creating a lot and we're getting a lot of production as a result."
The Canadiens' special teams were complemented with solid goaltending by Jaroslav Halak. Halak was busy throughout, but reserved his best saves for the third period. It was a great rebound game for Halak after a poor performance against the Sabres.
"The specialty teams were really the difference in the game tonight," said coach Martin. "Jaro came in and gave us a strong game. Everyone that played on the specialty teams did an outstanding job because we had a lot of penalties to kill."
Tonight's victory was even more satisfying as the Canadiens were playing with a short bench.
Jaroslav Spacek was struck in the back of the leg with a Alex Kovalev shot at the end of the first period. Spacek did not return to the game.
Ryan White played 3:26 in the first period and then was pulled from the ice by the NHL. They claimed that his call-up paperwork from Hamilton had not been properly filed with the league earlier in the day.
Max Pacioretty and Sergei Kostitsyn also spent time in the dressing room with injury concerns but returned to finish the game.
Productive special teams play and good goaltending are an effective combination that the Canadiens should try to model each game.
The Canadiens will return home to face the Penguins on Thursday night.
Rocket's three stars
1. Tomas Plekanec
2. Jaroslav Halak
3. Roman Hamrlik
Special mentions: Mike Fisher, Ryan O'Byrne
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