The good vibes are back, baby. Whether or not the Ottawa Senators are able to mount a miracle run to the play-offs, tonight’s 5-0 triumph over the Montreal Canadiens kept the good times going; a continuation of the jubilation following the 6-2 thrashing of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night. The Sens have now won three games in a row, and have looked good doing it. Also, regardless of where the team is in the standings, it always feels good to beat the Habs.
For a game that ended 5-0 for the good guys, this one actually didn’t get off to a great start for our local heroes. The Habs hit the crossbar early on, and also the post once later in the first period — and those weren’t their only high quality chances in the opening frame. Nick Holden was completely blown by in open ice on his second shift of the game, gifting the Habs another great chance that Anton Forsberg, who was superb all night, turned aside. DJ Smith reacted to Holden’s lead-footed defending by switching him with Nikita Zaitsev for the rest of the game. At this point it’s been pretty clearly established that a pairing of Zaitsev and Thomas Chabot does not work in the long run but for this evening it held together.
Regardless, the Sens settled in after the first ten minutes and the flow of play was much more even. There was a nearly ten minute stretch without a whistle at one point, and though neither team could convert their chances, it was still entertaining hockey.
In an alternate universe, or maybe just a game in November, the Habs would have buried a couple of their chances instead of drawing iron and the Sens would have been down 2-0 heading into the second period. But as I said earlier: the good vibes are back. To Ottawa’s credit, they didn’t look the gift horse in the mouth and delivered a dominating performance in the middle frame. Things got rolling pretty much right away when Alex DeBrincat ripped one by Samuel Montembeault on a 2-on-1:
The goal was typical of the kind of play that the Sens were hoping for when they traded for DeBrincat. Not to belabor the point about good bounces/luck/vibes, but everything looks better when a guy like DeBrincat is scoring those types of goals at 5v5.
Ottawa continued to carry the play through the early part of the middle frame, and were rewarded with not one but two consecutive power play opportunities. Kirby Dach went to the box for tripping Jake Sanderson just as the first penalty to Mike Hoffman was expiring, and the Sens converted on their second opportunity thanks to Claude Giroux. In what is quickly becoming a fun connection, Ridly Greig assisted on the Giroux tally with a nice pass through the seam for a backdoor tap-in:
Giroux would then strike again less than two minutes later, this one a bit of a lucky bounce off Arber Xhekaj’s skate to increase the lead to 3-0 and put the Sens firmly in control:
At this point, things really seemed to be going the Sens’ way and they coasted into the second intermission seemingly fully in control. It didn’t hurt that Forsberg was sharp on the few occasions that the Habs were able to mount any sustained pressure.
One of the unfortunate hallmarks of the Smith-era Senators has been a propensity to sit back on a lead in the third period. One of the hopes for this year’s squad was that the marked increase in talent would remedy some of this bad habit. If Ottawa is looking for a template to adhere to when defending a lead, their play in the third period of tonight’s game would do just fine; it took until there were just over five minutes left in the final stanza for the Habs to get their first shot on net. Meanwhile, the Sens generated several high quality chances and just generally snuffed the life out of Montreal. Mathieu Joseph, into an empty net, and Derick Brassard, on a breakaway with Montembeault back in, tallied late to wrap up the 5-0 score line.
And there was much merriment.
- With Tyler Motte returning from a prolonged absence due to injury, Smith made Austin Watson a healthy scratch. The Motte-Dylan Gambrell-Parker Kelly line had their moments, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the trio get an extended look. Certainly the foot speed isn’t lacking between the three of them.
- Forsberg has had his ups and downs this year, but tonight was the third game in a row in which he was excellent. With Cam Talbot maybe out for a little while, he’ll have another chance to establish himself as the #1 goalie; he’s earned it of late.
- Greig looked great again tonight. His ability to more than hold his own on the second line has enabled Smith to play Pinto on the third line which is a much better fit for the latter, and is giving Ottawa three competent trios.
- What more can you say about Giroux at this point? He’s been a stud, absolutely everything the Sens could have asked for and more.
- The Sens need Artem Zub back ASAP. Though the Habs never capitalized, both Zaitsev and Holden looked overmatched on several occasions tonight. Ottawa’s depth on the right side of the blueline is perilously thin, to say the least.