Christopher Higgins, he with the brightest grin, celebrates the second of his three goals, the first hat trick of his career, with Sergei Kostitsyn (left) and Ryan O’Byrne.
Shaun Best, Reuters
Christopher Higgins figures there couldn’t have been a better time for his first National Hockey League hat trick.
“We probably played our worst game the other night and tonight we played our most complete game,” Higgins said Tuesday night after his three-goal performance led the Canadiens to a 4-0 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau asked his players to go back to the basics after they lost 6-3 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night — a game which the coach described as the most embarrassing moment in his two-plus seasons behind the bench.
“It’s definitely the best 60 minutes we’ve played in the last two seasons,” Carbonneau said. “I’m sure after what we’ve been through the past few days, there was nervousness, but this is a team that has always responded well to adversity.”
The Canadiens took control of this game early. They tested Ottawa goaltender Alex Auld with five shots on a power play early in the first period and Higgins provided a taste of what was to come when he forced Auld to make a big save after the penalty expired.
Higgins, who dedicated the hat trick to his mother, said he had plenty of help from his teammates on the goals.
Saku Koivu sent Higgins into the clear with a backhanded lob pass over the Senators’ defence to create a short-handed breakaway at 7:22 of the first period. Sergei Kostitsyn alertly found Higgins at the side of the net seconds after the Canadiens finished killing a penalty at 14:11 of the second period. And Alex Tanguay sent Higgins into the clear for another breakaway at 16:35 of the third period.
Guillaume Latendresse scored the other Montreal goal.
“It was a good game for me because I’ve been trying to get myself going after missing a good part of training camp and the beginning of the season,” Higgins said. “This is my third game back with Saku and it’s starting to come around.”
When asked about his last hat trick, Higgins said he had to go back to his collegiate at Yale. He had one against Brown University, putting three shots behind former Canadiens teammate Yann Danis.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak and allowed the Canadiens (9-2-2) to leapfrog the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres into first place in the competitive Northeast Division. The Canadiens have a one-point edge, but also hold a game in hand on their rivals.
Carey Price rebounded from his performance Saturday night by stopping 28 shots for his first shutout of the season.
He had his best moments in the third period when he deflected a shot by Dany Heatley on a breakaway and later made a big save on a point-blank shot by Jason Spezza.
“I think I got my finger on that one,” Price said of the save on Heatley. “Outside of that, I didn’t have to do a lot.”
“I felt good for (Price), because I’ve been talking with him and know that he wasn’t happy with the way he as playing,” said defenceman Josh Gorges, who contributed two assists.
The Canadiens blocked 22 shots with Roman Hamrlik, who returned to the lineup after missing the Toronto game with a shoulder injury, getting in the way of a team-leading four.
Ryan O’Byrne, who has been in and out of the lineup because of inconsistent play, might have had his best game of the season. He had an assist, was plus-2 for the night and had six hits.
The Canadiens are off to Boston to play the Bruins Thursday night. They’ll return home to face the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday before embarking on a three-game road trip which will take them to St. Louis, Carolina and Ottawa.