Game 72: Loss plummets Habs to fifth in East

Updated at 10:34 pm with full audio

Ottawa Senators’ Jason Spezza celebrates his first-period goal, his joy not impressing Canadiens goalie Carey Price.
Allen McInnis, Gazette

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The Canadiens could have put themselves four points up on the Ottawa Senators tonight and solely into first place of the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.

Instead, with a 3-0 Bell Centre loss to the Senators, a team against which they’ve struggled mightily all season, the Habs (39-24-9) now find themselves in fifth place in the East, tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins (40-24-7) and Ottawa (40-25-7) with 87 points but trailing both based on games played or won.

New Jersey (41-24-6), which beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 in a shootout, vaulted everyone into first with 88 points.

The Carolina Hurricanes also lead the Canadiens overall, their 81 points putting them atop the Southeast Division.

Montreal is four points up on the New York Rangers, but the Broadway Blueshirts hold two games in hand.

Ottawa’s Jason Spezza scored a pair, his 29th and 30th of the season – No. 6 and 7 against the Habs – to deflate a Bell Centre crowd that came ready to party and left like it was off to a funeral. It was the Canadiens’ fifth loss to Ottawa in six games this season – and the clubs will play each other twice more by April 1.

The Senators took a little wind out of the home team’s sails with a power-play goal by Spezza at 8:21. With Mark Streit sitting out a hooking penalty, Cory Stillman took a pass from Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson and ripped one from the point that Spezza delicately tipped past Canadiens goalie Carey Price from just outside the Montreal goal crease.

For Spezza, who had a hat-trick for Ottawa in their 6-1 win over the Canadiens on Feb. 9, it was his 19th goal in his 28th career game against the Habs and his sixth goal and 13th point against Montreal in four games this season. And he’d add to that in the second period.

The Canadiens managed a dozen shots on Martin Gerber through the first 20 minutes, though only a single shot by Alex Kovalev seriously tested the Senators netminder. Ottawa fired eight at Price.

The second period got off to a quicker, equally bad start for Montreal. Spezza – who else? – swatted a bouncing puck out of mid-air as he moved behind the net, caroming it off Price’s back at 27 seconds. Kovalev was in the penalty box for a hooking penalty he had taken at 19:39 of the first period.

And the frame didn’t end much better when the Senators made it 3-0 on a goal by Antoine Vermette at 18:01, capitalizing on a rare rebound coughed up by Price off a hard, high shot off the stick of Ottawa’s Chris Kelly.

The Senators outshot their hosts 11-5 in the period.

Montreal had their best chance of the game to get on the scoreboard five minutes into the third on the power play, their third of the game, but couldn’t beat Gerber despite a furious flurry around the Ottawa net.

The Canadiens successfully killed a four-minute penalty assessed to Guillaume Latendresse for high-sticking Spezza, but never mounted another serious charge on Spezza. The Habs finally went 0-for-4 on the power play, the Senators 2-for-5.

The teams roughed it up behind the Ottawa net with about 70 seconds to play. It was one of few signs of life from the Canadiens all night long.

The Senators have now outscored Montreal 23-11 in six games this season, Ottawa holding a 41-38-5-2 lifetime record against their opponents from down Highway 417. The clubs play each other again March 24 at the Bell Centre and in Ottawa on April 1. That’s not good news for Canadiens fans, to be sure.

Montreal returns to practice today with the New York Islanders their visitors on Saturday, the St. Louis Blues coming to town next Tuesday to close out a four-game homestand.

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