Montreal Canadiens-Ottawa Senators: Habs Keep Shots Down but Not Goals

Rocket All HabsCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2009

OTTAWA, ON - DECEMBER 28:  Pascal Leclaire #33 of the Ottawa Senators defends the near post as Brian Gionta #21 of the Montreal Canadiens cuts hard towards the net with the puck in a game at Scotiabank Place on December 28, 2009 in Ottawa, Canada.  The Ottawa Senators defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-2. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)
Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

Montreal 2 Ottawa 4 (Scotiabank Place)

Many of the talking heads were crowing about tonight's game being the best played on the Canadiens' road trip. But Jacques Martin has designed his game plan to win with excellence from his goaltender and special teams. Tonight the goaltending by Jaroslav Halak was average and on special teams, the Habs gave up a goal while shorthanded, and strangely enough, they didn't have a chance on the power-play.

While the Canadiens didn't have their best first period of the year—that would be the Centennial game against Boston—it was a good example of how we can expect the team to play as it gets healthy. They looked very good. With Brian Gionta back in the lineup and Georges Laraque in the press, the team had four legitimate NHL-caliber lines.

The Habs used their speed, they forechecked, and had a 2-0 lead by the 10 minute mark of the first period for the second consecutive game. Mike Cammalleri broke out of his goal scoring slump on a beautiful passing play by Andrei Markov and Andrei Kostitsyn. Tomas Plekanec created havoc in front of the Senators goal.

The goal by Cammalleri was number 20,000 in Canadiens' franchise history. "It's pretty special to be part of the history," said Cammalleri. "It's not the result we wanted though." The historic goal comes in the 6,056th game.

Benoit Pouilot scored his first goal in a Canadiens sweater. Pouilot is not afraid to go to the net, has great hands to make skilled plays and has good hockey sense, characteristics that were absent in his predecessor's game. It's early to make any judgements about his future, but it is clear already that Pouillot is a significant upgrade on Guillaume Latendresse.

Pouillot and Brian Gionta had 12 of the Canadiens 31 shots. Gionta was everywhere in the first period. While Andrei Markov was injured, there was a huge void in the Canadiens line-up. But let's not underestimate the value of Gionta and how much he was missed for 21 games while injured. With his return, the Canadiens had two effective top lines for the first time this season.

"It felt pretty good to be back," said Gionta. "We would have liked the win obviously. When we have a team on a rope we have to find a way to bury them."

As the game wore on, the Habs ran into penalty trouble and began returning to their coach's favorite passive style of play. Unfortunately, this approach mitigates one of the Canadiens assets, speed, and exposes a glaring weakness which is defense.

Marc-Andre Bergeron and Hal Gill can be effective in limited doses, but overwhelmed when opposing forwards gain the blue-line in full flight. Bergeron's giveaway led to the Senators winning goal tonight.

Sergei Kostitsyn deserves special mention. Sergei was moved off the second line to make room for Gionta but accepted his role and played a feisty game. He continues to be paired with Scott Gomez on the second penalty-killing unit.

Officiating was inconsistent at best tonight. While the Canadiens were assessed five minor penalties, Ottawa had none. The Senators had a goal waved off for goaltender interference by Chris Neil. Replays showed that the goal should have been allowed to stand.

This was a very winnable game for the Canadiens. They missed a chance to take advantage of a Senators lineup that was without several injured players including Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Nick Foligno.

"With the injuries we have right now there are certain guys who are going to step up to fill those roles," said Ryan Shannon. "There are a lot of guys that want to fill those roles and we're doing a good job so far."

Carey Price required several stitches to his ear after a puck hit him while on the bench.

The Canadiens now head to Florida for games against the Lighting and Panthers to end their seven game road trip.

Rocket's three stars

1. Pascal Leclaire
2. Andrei Markov
3. Peter Regin

Special mention: Benoit Pouliot, Brian Gionta

Material from wire services was used in this report.