Habs stay on top of the Atlantic, down Sens 4-3 in the shootout

Game 1 of the best-of-three over the next 8 days goes to the Montreal Canadiens.

I’m glad that this wasn’t a playoff game because if it was, I’d be bitter. Ups-and-downs, shady penalty calls, a botched late-game powerplay, and a weak goal means that the game — and the Atlantic Division lead — was well in sight for the Ottawa Senators tonight. However, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Tonight had many of the key ingredients that we’ve come to expect from a Habs - Sens matchup. The first sign? A high-pace.

The scoreless first period was due to the efforts of Carey Price and Craig Anderson, not because there was a shortage of chances. Bobby Ryan and Jean-Gabriel Pageau were especially noticeable for the Senators, while Shaw, Lekhonen, Byron, and Gallagher were all seen around Craig Anderson’s crease, jamming away for any loose pucks.

The second period also started off wild, mainly due to the way the first period ended with sequential penalties to Mark Borowiecki and Phillip Danault. After Turris beat Price but hit the post on the Sens short powerplay opportunity, Danault raced out of the box for a partial breakaway only to miss the net going high on Anderson. However, the Habs forward would get the last laugh. On his next shift, the Habs dumped the puck in and pressed two forwards in on a 2-1-2 forecheck. Alex Burrows and Cody Ceci both misplay the dump, leading to the puck bouncing out in front of Anderson and right to Danault. Instead of forcing a shot, he finds a wide-open Andrew Shaw for a tap-in to put the Habs up 1-0.

The first 10 minutes of the period was all Montreal, with Ott, Lekhonen, and Plekanec all having Grade-A opportunities on Craig Anderson and outshooting the Sens 9-3. I’d imagine that Boucher noticed this, as he switches up his D pairings, putting Methot with Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf with Erik Karlsson (as you can see visually in the image below via ShiftChart where the red blocks represent shifts by the Sens).

Ottawa’s luck changes quickly, with the aforementioned Methot drawing a tripping penalty on Danault in the offensive zone. The Sens cash in on what first appears to be a broken play, but ends up manifesting as a quick-strike scoring chance. As Erik Karlsson is forced out into the neutral zone by a Habs PKer, he transitions the puck to Mike Hoffman on the right wall for the entry. Hoffman quickly fires it cross ice to Kyle Turris, who then lobs the puck to a streaking Derick Brassard down the middle of the ice. Brassard beautifully taps the puck out of the air to tie the game at 1 on his 13th of the year.

Less than two minutes later, the Sens take the lead. Ryan Dzingel, playing in his 100th NHL game, pokes a puck through Carey Price as he and Alex Burrows were crashing the net for a loose puck that Karlsson sent there from his favourite ‘forward’ position on the right side. It’s a weak goal on Price, but one that Dzingel will take in order to break a slump for his 14th of the season.

The shots, lopsided in favour of the Habs originally, ended up being 12-10 OTT, showcasing the changing tides nicely.

Unfortunately for the Senators, their one-goal lead evaporated quickly in the third period. The momentum swing started with a Brassard slashing penalty on Andrew Shaw 5-minutes in. A soft call by Tim Peel (duh!), but a bad penalty to take nonetheless given that Brassard was 140 feet away from his own net. On the PK, the Sens do well to clog the neutral zone and stymie the Habs until... the very end of the powerplay. As the Sens try to sneak a D pairing line change in, Andrew Shaw turns at the high point and sends the puck to Nathan Beaulieu, who fires it on net. Of course, Phillip Danault is waiting their for the rebound to knot the game at 2 on an even-strength goal just as time expired.

Less than a minute later, Brendan Gallagher spins off of Dion Phaneuf near the goal line on the left side of the ice and picks the top right corner on Anderson. It’s a shaky goal that Anderson would love back, especially seeing that it was one of the furthest shot attempts the Habs had all night.

After taking the lead, the Habs try to slow down the pace of play and are successful in the first 10 minutes — with the shot count favouring them, 3-2. However, the tide turns as the Sens build momentum off of won offensive zone draws and set offensive zone plays. Soon after, Zack Smith draws a hooking call on Jeff Petry and on the ensuing advantage, Karlsson hits the post while Hoffman and Turris hit... Bobby Ryan in front. Ryan, who was shaken up after the powerplay, stayed in the game and was extremely noticeable tonight with 9 shot attempts, a couple of nice scoring chances, and a 57% CF%.

The Sens finally tie the game up off of a face-off play executed to perfection. It starts with Brassard winning the draw cleanly to Marc Methot on the left wall, who then tees the puck up perfectly for Karlsson on the left point. From there, the Captain just does his thing — firing an accurate wrist shot through 4 players (including the net front presence of Alex Burrows) and past Carey Price to make it 3-all.

Given the division title at stake, I was surprised to see that both teams fought valiantly at the end of the period to try and win the game in regulation, with the dangerous Lekhonen - Shaw - Danault line pinning the Sens fourth line in the zone for a minute while Hoffman - Turris - Ryan countered for the Senators. In 3-on-3 OT, most of the action came before the Sens putrid 4-on-3 attempt in the final two minutes, where the team was way too intentional with looking for slow cross-ice passes and didn’t manage a single scoring chance on the Habs.

The Habs walked away with the two points after Paul Byron and Alexander Radulov both scored on Craig Anderson while Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris were unable to score for Ottawa.

Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson

I really wanted the team to score on the 4-on-3 in OT, not just for the two points, but for Karlsson to add a third point to his collection on the night. The captain continued to lead by example, and was on the ice for all of the Sens goals while hitting a post and drawing two penalties (high-stick on Danault and holding on Pacioretty in OT).

Sens Killers: Habs Depth

The line of Lekhonen, Shaw, and Danault were nefarious all night long and were the main creators of offence for the Habs. They had >65% of the shot attempts on the ice and ran amok despite who was on the ice for Ottawa. Slick, fast, and skilled — when the teams meet tomorrow, Boucher and co. will be looking for a unit to get the puck out of the zone quickly when this trio is on the ice. With Jean-Gabriel Pageau occupied with the Alex Galchenyuk matchup, either the Turris or Brassard lines will have to take on this duty.

Sens Killer: Defensive Breakdowns

Present less so this season compared to seasons past, Guy Boucher can’t be happy with his team’s defensive effort tonight. The third goal was completely on Anderson, but the Sens netminder had to battle in his crease all night long due to the number of shot attempts in tight by the Habs, which you can see on the heat map below. There were also a number of lapses in defensive coverage — two of them leading to goals against — and a number of others that led to key stops on Alexander Radulov and Max Pacioretty. It’s hard to say what the cause is, but it just seemed like the Sens had both a hard time supporting each other in the defensive zone AND made a couple of bad line changes.

Game Flow and Heat Map via Natural Stat Trick

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