A member of the Scotiabank Place ice crew gathers up hats tossed on the ice to celebrate Jason Spezza’s three goals. And yes, that’s a Canadiens tuque among the hats she’s picked up.
André Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images
Much buzz the past week has been about how close the Canadiens are to the Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa Senators. Make that how close they were. Tonight, the teams were a few acres apart and the Habs now trail Ottawa by five points, with two tough midweek games awaiting them in Florida.
The Senators, with their No. 1 line of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza reunited after a spell of injuries, were men against the Canadiens boys, rolling to a 6-1 victory at Scotiabank Place.
The Ottawa trio earned 15 points in skating roughshod over the Habs. The Senators have outscored Montreal 30-11 since last losing to them on home ice on Nov. 13, 2006.
"I have nothing to say," head coach Guy Carbonneau said shortly after the game. "There was nothing positive."
About the Senators’ dominant line: "We helped them," he added.
Any chance the Canadiens (29-18-9) had of avoiding a sixth consecutive loss in Ottawa evaporated tonight while the ice was still wet.
Spezza, in his second game back in the Senators lineup after having missed 11 with a shoulder injury, beat Tomas Plekanec on the draw, then moved to the front of the net to deflect Anton Volchenkov’s chip shot from the blue line past Montreal goalie Cristobal Huet at 22 seconds.
The Senators (34-18-4) bagged their second at 1:42 on a play that began just inside their own end, Steve Bégin handicapped by a broken stick. Heatley stormed up the left wing and fired on Huet, the puck tumbling over the falling goalie. Spezza pounced on it before any Canadiens defender could arrive for the easy score.
Huet’s night was over at 4:45, pulled in favour of Carey Price, when Senators captain Alfredsson converted a fine passing play with Spezza and Joe Corvo, the Canadiens scrambling furiously in vain to contain their on-fire hosts. It was Ottawa’s third goal on just four shots.
The good news – and there was some, no matter the lopsided scoreboard – was that the Canadiens actually outplayed the Senators after their early implosion, holding a 12-6 edge in shots and 13-9 advantage in hits after 20 minutes. (Ottawa finally outhit Montreal 34-21.)
Those looking for a silver lining also could point to the four goal posts/crossbars the Habs hit tonight and their outshooting the Senators 34-29.
But Montreal’s normally potent power play didn’t help in its first three opportunities; in the season’s four meetings between the two clubs before tonight’s contest, the Habs had scored six of their 10 goals with a man advantage.
With all these wasted chances to claw back into the game, the Canadiens’ hole grew deeper when Heatley scored on his own rebound at 10:17 of the second period, having easily muscled his way behind the Montreal defence.
Then, on a power-play of their own, Spezza picked up his fifth point of the night, earning his first career hat trick when he batted the puck out of the air past Price on the rebound of a Heatley shot with Patrice Brisebois off for holding.
A breakdown in Senators discipline late in the second gave the Canadiens a 5-on-3 for two minutes, Ottawa’s Mike Fisher and Chris Neil both sent off. Price earned his first NHL assist when he whipped a pass to the Ottawa blue line to Sergei Kostitsyn, who found his brother, Andrei, at Senators goalie Ray Emery’s crease for the tip-in, his 17th goal of the season, at 19:35.
A holding penalty to Ottawa’s Chris Schubert at 19:52 restored the Canadiens’ two-man advantage, which spanned the second and third periods but yielded nothing for Montreal.
Brisebois drew his second minor of the game at 2:11 of the third, and 17 seconds later Alfredsson whipped a shot past Price for his second goal and fifth point of the night. Spezza, naturally, earned an assist for his sixth point.
The Canadiens were outmatched physically, too, Sergei Kostitsyn taking a vicious uppercut from Senators defenceman Wade Redden in a very one-sided fight late in the game.
Senators goalie Ray Emery makes one of his 33 saves, stopping Andrei Kostitsyn.
Philip MacCallum, Getty Images