One team played postseason hockey at the Bell Centre last night.
It was not your Montreal Canadiens.
Ottawa wanted it more, and the Senators played that way: tight, hard-hitting, highly-disciplined hockey. The kind that wins games in April, May and maybe June.
The Senators won battles for loose pucks. They moved efficiently through the neutral zone. They scored playoff goals. Nothing fancy. No pretty tic-tac-toe plays. Two Jason Spezza tip-ins and Antoine Vermette cashed a rebound.
Canadiens brought their October game. There wasn’t much intensity or effort until it was out of reach.
Facing two goaltenders named Martin this week, Canadiens beat Brodeur and were shut out in their own building by Gerber.
The Swiss goalie, whom Canadiens owned when he was in Carolina, seems to have emerged as Number One in Ottawa after a lengthy soap opera. Gerber is inelegant, but last night he was effective.
As were his teammates. Ottawa played stifling New Jersey/Florida-style defence.
There’ve been more exciting nights at the Bell Centre this season. But if there are to be many more games there next month, the go-go Canadiens have to figure out how to play this way.
Saku Koivu said Canadiens played fairly well 5-on-5. He must have been referring to lines other than his own.
Koivu, Christopher Higgins and Sergei Kostitsyn combined for a grand total of zero shots on goal. For 20 shifts and 17 minutes, that’s brutal.
The Tomas Plekanec line had more SoG – a total of eight – but most were from a distance and Gerber saw them all. The line was unable to work its usual magic as Ottawa clogged the passing lanes.
The third and fourth lines buzzed the Ottawa net and forechecked with a fair degree of gusto. But they don’t score – or at least they didn’t last night.
I wonder if Guy Carbonneau will be tempted to tinker with his lines for the Islanders game on Saturday. Canadiens have to figure out a way to get Higgins going.
So, first to fifth in one night.
Yikes! It’s like going to bed with Sharon Stone and waking up with Roseanne Barr.
(OK ladies, to be non-sexist and even-handed, it’s like going to bed with Colin Farrell and waking up with Stéphane Dion.)
If the playoffs began today, Canadiens would be in Pittsburgh. Maybe there’s less snow than in Montreal.
Playoffs don’t begin, however, for another few weeks. Between now and then, Canadiens have two more games with Ottawa, which has won five of their six meetings this season.
There has to be a way to beat these guys.
Of course, that’s probably what they’re saying in Boston as they look ahead to a home-and-home against the Canadiens next week.