The Ottawa Senators have been having a rough time of things lately, with star forwards Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson each having gone seven games without a point. In addition, Alex Kovalev—whose name has been circulating in rumors as a possible trade acquisition target by the Montreal Canadiens—has gone five games without a point.
It's no wonder, then, that the Sens are currently outside looking in on the playoff picture.
The Canadiens, riding a two-game winning streak, showed no mercy for their struggling opponent, dominating the neutral zone to outshooting the Senators 13-6 in the first period. Michael Cammalleri opened the scoring on the power play when he picked up his own rebound and put it high past Pascal Leclaire. The goal marked the 19th time the Habs have scored the first goal in 28 games.
Their record when scoring first now stands at 16-2-1.
A Habs turnover on a late first-period power play allowed the Sens to tie it up with nine seconds to play. With an assist on the goal, Jason Spezza finally broke his seven-game pointless drought.
Unfortunately for the Canadiens, they stopped skating in the second period and allowed the Sens to dominate play. In addition, they fired blanks on a five-minute and four-minute power play, handing the momentum over to the Sens.
These big penalty kills swung the momentum towards the Senators, but Carey Price was there to ensure his teammates didn't fall behind as they were being outshot 13-9 in the second frame.
The Habs started skating again in the third and broke the 1-1 tie on a brilliant individual effort from Jeff Halpern. That goal seemed to put the Sens back on their heels, and the Habs responded by potting two more goals in the third to seal the deal.
Final score: Habs 4, Sens 1
Habs' scorers: Michael Cammalleri (9), Jeff Halpern (6), Brian Gionta (9), Roman Hamrlik (3)
Sens' scorers: Nick Foligno (2)
Three stars: 1. Michael Cammalleri, 2. Brian Gionta, 3. Jeff Halpern
1. Oops, Price did it again
While Carey wasn't tested much over the first 20 minutes of play, he had to be solid during a second period where the Sens were outshooting the Habs, 13-9. As the Sens seized the momentum off of two strong penalty kills and dominated play through the neutral zone, the reeling Habs allowed the Sens to barrage their netminder for 13 shots.
But Price, the iceman, was calm, cool and collected, as he has been all season, turning aside shots, swallowing pucks and letting out nary a rebound. The positionally solid Price forced the swarming Sens to mostly hit him right in the crest with the puck.
Even a little physical contact and crease crashing by the Sens was not enough to throw Price off of his game, and he was even seen yapping at the Ottawa players after making a few great saves, a la Patrick Roy. This is a player who is in full possession of all of his faculties and is completely dominating the league as a result.
Price's GAA and save percentages are both third among all starters at a sparkling 1.92 and .936, respectively. In addition, the win was Price's 17th of the season in 26 starts, first among all goaltenders.
Is now a good time to start including Price's name in the Vezina and Hart trophy discussions?
2. Michael Cammalleri was the Habs' best player
With one goal, five shots on net and 18:43 of ice time, Cammalleri was the Habs' best player not named Carey Price last night. He was all over the ice, combative, aggressive around the net, looking like the Michael Cammalleri who was tearing up the ice during the 2010 playoffs.
Driving to the net and working some stick-handling magic, Cammalleri was a spark plug on the second line and showed that "never quit" attitude that he's been missing since being teamed up with Scott Gomez.
While Cammalleri played some excellent hockey, the weakness of his linemates was still evident. Cammalleri sprung Travis Moen clear in front of the Senators goalie with a beautiful pass, but Moen wasn't even able to get a shot off, let alone score.
The play illustrated the dire need for a scoring winger to play on that line.
Despite their recent struggles, the Cammalleri-Gomez-Moen line actually played one of their best games together until Gomez left the game with a lower-body injury in the second.
With Gomez now listed as day-to-day, it will be interesting to see how Jacques Martin composes his lines going forward. Given the strength of the third line with Lars Eller, logic would dictate that Jeff Halpern, who scored a beautiful goal last night, will get the spot.
But Jacques Martin doesn't always do what I feel is logical, so who really knows.
3. Brian Gionta has really come back to life
With two points (one goal, one assist), four shots on net and a plus-two, Gionta now has seven points (four goals, three assists) and a plus-four rating over his last seven games. While he struggled at the beginning of the season playing with Gomez, rather than withering away, he put his head down and worked his butt off.
The points weren't coming and he was getting frustrated, but he was still doing the little things right to help his team win.
Since being switched to the Tomas Plekanec line, however, Gionta has rediscovered his scoring touch and has eight of his nine goals in the last 15 games. Add to that the fact that he is still leading by his quiet, hardworking example, and you have a player who is a true leader on this team.
4. The Habs have surprising scoring depth
The boon for the Canadiens and the secret to their scoring success has been the contributions from all four lines. While the Habs' second line has struggled—largely due to Gomez's ineffectiveness and Travis Moen's lack of top-six skills—the Canadiens have a bevy of players contributing on the scoreboard.
After last night's game, the Habs now have four players who have scored nine goals—Plekanec, Gionta, Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn—and are each on pace to score 26 this season. In addition, Benoit Pouliot has six goals and is on pace to score 18 this season—all of this from the third line while averaging 11:55 of ice time. Jeff Halpern, too, has been getting in on the action, scoring his fifth goal last night; he's on pace to pot 15 this season while averaging 13:16 of ice time.
Finally, each with four goals scored so far, both Maxim Lapierre and Scott Gomez are on pace to score at least 12 goals. Add it all up, and the Canadiens currently have eight players who are on pace to score at least 12 goals, six on pace to score at least 15 and four that are on pace to score 25 or more.
When the Habs won the cup in 1993, they had 13 players who scored 10 or more, 11 who scored 12 or more, seven who scored 15 or more, four who scored 20 or more and two who scored 30 or more.
While the current edition of the Habs are not quite at the depth level of the 1993 Stanley Cup Champions, if they can find a bona fide top-six scoring forward to play on the second line while still leading the league in goals against, the Habs will continue to be a top-tier team in the NHL.
5. Scott Gomez was injured last night, so now what?
Fans' wishes to no longer have Scott Gomez centering the second line came true last night when he left the game with a lower-body injury. Gomez went to the dressing room near the end of the first period, played two shifts in the second and was done for the night.
There is no official word on the extent or nature of the injury except that it is to his lower-body, likely his back, and Gomez is listed as day-to-day. While in theory, it is good that someone else will get a shot at centering the second line, in a way it was kind of unfortunate, because for a rare occasion the Gomez line was actually playing like a cohesive unit last night.
Jeff Halpern seems to be the heir apparent to the second line and not a moment too soon. I mean isn't it about time Canadiens management found a center to play with Cammalleri?
There is a slight temptation to see what Lars Eller can do playing on the second line, perhaps even letting him bring his winger, Benoit Pouliot, with him. That said, he has slowly been progressing well, and I would be surprised if Martin decided to vault him into the top-six.
Another interesting option that was discussed on RDS's L'Antichambre last night, was to bring up both David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty from Hamilton. Both players have been playing together in the AHL, have great chemistry and are absolutely tearing it up.
While they clearly deserve a shot at the NHL level, the Habs seem to be taking a more cautious approach with young players of late. I personally have no problem with that and think that maybe it is a sign that Habs management has learned from the errors of rushing too many young players through the system.
Either way, you have to think that Pacioretty seems destined for a tryout on the Habs second line. All that remains to be seen is at what point of the season that will happen.
If I was a betting man, which I'm not, I wouldn't anticipate Pacioretty getting a chance before the new year.
Standings and Next Game
The Habs are now riding a three-game winning streak, have an 18-8-2 record and 38 points in the standings. They are currently tied for third overall in the East with the Flyers, but sit in third in conference standings in virtue of their first-place overall in the Northeast division.
The Boston Bruins are five points back of the Canadiens, with two games in hand.
The Canadiens will enjoy two days off before perhaps their biggest test of the season: a Friday night matchup against the Detroit Red Wings, in Detroit. The Red Wings are 10-2-2 at Joe Louis Arena this season, so it will be no easy feat for the Habs.
Who will be the second line center? Will P.K. Subban be back in the lineup? Are the Habs ready to call up a player from Hamilton?
Tune in Friday to find out.
Sunday Shinny on The Team 990
A quick footnote to let you all know that I now have a regular radio segment on the Team 990 (http://www.team990.com) every Sunday from 8 am - 9am, on The Franchise Montreal Weekend morning show.
The segment is called Sunday Shinny with Gary Whittaker, Nick Murdocco, Amanda Stein and yours truly. We will be reviewing the Montreal Canadiens but also looking at happenings around the league.
Tune in on Sundays and send me your feedback!