Sens Beat Habs 3-1 In Kovalev's Return to Montreal

It wasn't a pretty victory, but the Senators will take the win, bringing their season record to an impressive five wins and two losses.

The big story, of course, was that Alex Kovalev played his first game in Montreal after leaving the Canadiens in the off-season, and he did not disappoint. Kovalev had a beautiful assist on Daniel Alfredsson's game-winning power-play goal, and Kovy notched a goal of his own in the third, which led to a large cheer from most of the Montreal faithful - although a number of bitter fans continued to boo.

However, this really was not a game that the Senators deserved to win, at least not for the first two periods. The Canadiens completely dominated the Sens in the first period, but thanks to a huge 5-on-3 penalty kill with an incredible amount of blocked shots from Mike Fisher, Matt Carkner, Anton Volchenkov, and Pascal Leclaire, the Senators came out unscathed. Ottawa's PK is now running at an incredible 93.1%, good for 2nd in the NHL. Penalties were the big story of the game, as the Senators took four in a row in the first period, while Montreal took four in a row in the second. Only the Senators were able to turn the powerplay into anything, with Alfredsson's goal coming while the Sens had a two-man advantage. However, the Senators' powerplay woes continued the other four times they had the man advantage, as their PP looked pitiful, failing to set up or present much of a threat at any time. In stark contrast to their PK percentage, the Senators are 11.5% on the powerplay, or 18th in the league.

To tell the truth, most of the Senators players were fairly invisible for the first two periods, relying on a combination of Leclaire and luck, although Chris Neil, Alfredsson, and Fisher (who grabbed two assists) all had noticeably strong games. Leclaire made some huge saves throughout the game, the only shot slipping past him being one from Mike Cammalleri that Leclaire caught a piece of with his glove, but didn't manage to hold on. The third period was a completely different story, though, with Ottawa keeping it in the Canadiens' zone and away from danger for the most part.

Even if it was won through solid goaltending and a bit of luck, a win on the road against a division rival is always a big one. However, the Ottawa senators can not expect to win many other games with the kind of sloppy play they exhibited tonight.

(Peter's take after the fold... )

Peter's take: Darren's definitely right, it didn't start pretty, and it was a win that would likely not have happened if not for the solid goaltending of Leclaire. It was promising, though, that the Senators were able to withstand the onslaught of a pretty good team with a lot of motivation to come out strong in their game, and some early powerplays that definitely put the momentum in Montreal's favour. Unlike the last two years, though, the Sens bent without breaking, withstood the pressure, and responded in the second period when they got some powerplays of their own.

Although they didn't look like they deserved it, the Senators actually took the early lead off a surprisingly pretty goal from Chris Neil. Some great work in the corner from Nick Foligno turned the puck over and right onto the stick of Mike Fisher, who passed it from the corner to set up Neil for a roof job from the slot. I'll be the first to admit that I was not impressed with the re-signing of Chris Neil at any salary; I thought his role was more than filled by younger players, particularly as his play fell off significantly in the last couple seasons. So far this year, though, his play has picked up significantly--possibly recharged by the aggressive style of Command Kloustonom, pugilistic support from Carkner, or the challenges of those who questioned his signing--and he's become, once again, a solid third-liner or a very strong fourth-liner. It remains to be seen whether or not the term of the contract will turn out to be a mistake, but Neil's very quickly impressing a lot of people.

The only goal that got by Leclaire was a pretty flukey one, and it's pretty hard to blame him for it. Cammalleri broke down on his off-wing and fired a wrister that Leclaire got a piece of, but not enough and it fluttered up and over his head. Other than that one, he stopped 27 of 28 shots faced, and looked damn good in the process--particularly with a stick-save on Tomas Plekanec early in the second frame. He had plenty of help, though: The Sens blocked 26 shots before they even got to Leclaire. Leading the way was Carkner, with eight, but Anton Volchenkov was close behind with six (I guess Big Country's trying to stop Android from hogging all the shot-blocking glory).

As great as Alfredsson's one-timer was in the second period, it would never have happened if not for the slick pass from Kovalev. AK27's buffer-room goal in the third was pretty slick, too, and I was surprised and pretty impressed by the response Canadiens' fans gave him when he put it in the net.

All in all, another promising result that's just adding to my excitement about the still-young season.

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