Bobby Pelletier The Hockey Writers
Can The Montreal Canadiens Beat The Senators in Ottawa?
It didn’t take much for the series between the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators to go from overwrought novelty to personal grudge. P.K. Subban’s two-handed slash earned Mark Stone a bone bruise. The Ottawa Senators decided to milk it for all it was worth. In a league that takes pride in the toughness of its players, the Senators decided to take a different road, not a very high one. The Habs dominated Game 1 thanks to their bottom-six filling up for their lack of stars. They played a strong Game 2, thanks to their stars scoring timely goals. The Sens went from hoping to win the series to hoping to win at least one game.
Montreal Canadiens Were Ready For The Ottawa Senators
The Senators had not learn from Wednesday’s contest. They came out big and throwing caution to the wind. Ottawa’s strategy of getting calls through overreactions didn’t work this time. After officiating had been perplexing in Game 1, referees were on high alert in Game 2. To start the game, Curtis Lazar took Emelin to the boards, then wrapped his arms around him and took him to the ice. Both players scrapped on the ice and settled their score without any intervention from the refs.
Four minutes later, the Sens were still on their mission to neutralize Subban. After Pageau attempted and Stone succeeded in Game 1, it was Mike Hoffman that tried his hand at thespianism. Hoffman hit Subban into the boards, making contact on his left shoulder. Subban had his stick in the air, on his right side. Hoffman, nowhere near a stick, grabbed his mouth and fell to the ice. Again, no calls were made on the play. The referees made it clear that that kind of stuff wouldn’t fly anymore and the game is better for it.
One Hit Wonders
The Senators’ first period is their only good period. After two games, Ottawa lead the first 20’s statistically. Shots are 23 to 18 in favor of Dave Cameron’s men. The Montreal Canadiens combined for 30 hits in the first period of games one and two. The Senators, on their part, dished out 39 hits. The Ottawa Senators outscored the Canadiens 2-0.
This is where experience factors in. In two consecutive games did the Ottawa Senators come out with strength and energy to spend it all in the first. What they might see as ”setting the tone” is in fact setting the table for the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs made a season out of playing rope-a-dope and weathering the storm during first periods.
Beyond the opening periods, the story gets drastically different for the Ottawa Senators. The Montreal Canadiens lead in shots, 63 to 41, and outscored the Sens seven to three. The Senators still have the lead in hits, 58 to 53, mostly due to them chasing the puck most of the game.
The first period in Ottawa will be a real test for the Montreal Canadiens. Having the last change, the Senators will be able to get the match-up they want. Look for Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s line to buzz around Carey Price’s crease. Dave Cameron assuredly will try to keep Kyle Turris away from Tomas Plekanec. Erik Karlsson should get a lot more freedom but that could prove to be their downfall. With favorable match-ups, Karlsson might be tempted, or is expected, to lead rushes and pinch deep in Montreal’s zone.
In Game 1, that proved to be detrimental for the Senators, who gave up goals on odd-man rushes. The Senators will feed off the desperation of being 0-2 and give all that they have to the Montreal Canadiens. The first 10 minutes will be Ottawa’s best of the game. The Senators have to win four out of the next five games to win the series, if they don’t win their first home game, that feat will seem unreachable.
The reason why the Ottawa Senators chased the puck so much in Game 2 is in great part thanks to Tomas Plekanec. The Montreal Canadiens’ most utilized forward, with 21:02 played in the series’ second game, Plekanec won 64% of his draws. His highest rate since winning 64.7% of his faceoffs against the Senators on March 12th.
Plekanec won three big draws consecutively on the Habs’ first power play, each leading to scoring chances and turning the tide for the Montreal Canadiens. His second point in two games, Plekanec set up the game winner by intercepting a soft pass from Eric Gryba and passing to Brendan Gallagher, whose rebound led to Alex Galchenyuk’s overtime goal.
With Brendan Gallagher who is playing what can only be described as fearless hockey and Alex Galchenyuk who by now must have a hunger for playoff goals, it will be up to Plekanec to get the puck off the draw and get them going. With a 0.70 point/game average on the road this year, Tomas Plekanec will be one of his team’s most important catalysts in Ottawa.
Off of a tough regular season, Lars Eller is playing top-notch hockey so far this spring. In Game 2, Eller won 60% of his faceoffs. Eller’s ability as a penalty killer has helped his team, who were short-handed eight times in two games. Though on the ice for two PP goals against, Eller produced a goal of his own, short-handed, in game 1. In the third period of Game 2, Lars Eller’s puck possession in the Senators’ zone led to two consecutive penalties. Both Patrick Wiercioch and Mike Hoffman tripped Eller, three minutes apart.
The Habs will rely heavily on their bottom six in Ottawa. Lars Eller will be a factor in which way the game goes. If Eller plays like he has played the first two playoff games, the Montreal Canadiens have a better chance of winning the game. If we are met with January Lars Eller, The Habs will have a much harder time.
While Jiri Sekac is still a healthy scratch in Anaheim, Devante Smith-Pelly is clearing house for the Montreal Canadiens. Hitting everyone that comes close to the boards in the Habs’ zone, especially if that one is wearing number 65, winning time and space for linemates David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty. Following the same model as right-wingers Brendan Gallagher and Dale Weise, DSP is all energy, all the time.
Smith-Pelly earned his first career playoff assist in Game 2. After battling along the boards for the puck, DSP got the puck out of the scrum to a wide open P.K. Subban and, well, the rest is history.
Devante Smith-Pelly’s contribution is a lot more than points. Taking his place on the Desharnais line, DSP is doing what P.A. Parenteau couldn’t, and that’s fishing the puck out of the corners and, most importantly, setting shop in the blue paint and screening the goalie.
Not once, during the Montreal Canadiens’ six power plays has Devante Smith-Pelly shied away from the paint. He even got a stick broken on his back, compliments of defenseman Eric Gryba, during Mike Hoffman’s penalty. That didn’t deter Smith-Pelly from going back. With the game tied at two and Montreal menacing to score. Marc Methot had enough and head-locked DSP in the paint, earning a holding penalty with 1:17 left to play in the third period.
Between the hits on Karlsson and the crease battles with Gryba and Methot, DSP provides the sand paper the Habs needed for some time.
Cool, Not Aloof, Because Being Aloof Is Not Cool
Surprisingly, the Montreal Canadiens’ best player is the last to make an impact. Pacioretty came back from a two-week absence to score a big power play goal. P.K. Subban, for the second time in two straight post-seasons, after being the Bruins’ most wanted , was now the Senators’ and shove a giant game-tying goal down the opposition’s throat. Alex Galchenyuk, the Habs’ highest drafted player since Doug Wickenheiser, scored the overtime winner.
The only Montreal Canadien left to make an impact, is Carey Price. This is a great example of how spoiled the Habs are. Even being average, Price is still better than most. Remains that Price has allowed a couple of questionable goals, if not down right softies.
In Game 1, Price was okay before shutting the door in the third period once the Montreal Canadiens got the lead, helping his team protect a one goal lead for 22:43 minutes in a playoff game. Sure, he only faced seven shots in the third and it can be as much attributed to team defense as to Price but still, the Habs’ net minder made the saves he had to when it mattered.
Game 2 was a different animal altogether. Price, at times, seemed disengaged. Playing the puck loosely in his zone and putting his team out of step on repeated occasions. Some turnovers were created and some shifts were extended due to Price’s puck handling. The Senators’ tying goal came off of a mishandling of the puck by Price, something he doesn’t normally do.
Price will have to be on high alert in Ottawa. With the last change, the crowd, and desperation to win on their side, the Senators will pepper the Bill Jennings Trophy winner throughout the game. Like in many road games in the regular season, the Montreal Canadiens will be as good as their goalie.
The first two games on the road will be the first true test of the playoffs for the Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender. Shouldn’t be too much to ask from a goalie who, from December 23rd to February 26th, set a franchise record of 10 straight wins on the road.
Thumb’s Up or Down For The Senators?
The Montreal Canadiens were the first team this postseason to win two games. By winning three, they would essentially win the series. The Senators are already discouraged from their helplessness at the Bell Centre. If the Habs pull the same tricks in Ottawa, game’s over. But for that they will need Carey Price to be a brick wall, Plekanec to win draws, DSP to bang and crash and Lars Eller to be a general for the bottom-six.
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