At the start of the season, the general consensus among most people who follow the NHL was that the Ottawa Senators would at least be passably good while the Montreal Canadiens would almost certainly be terrible. At the midway point of the season, the fact that the Habs were until recently hanging around .500 while the Sens sat at the bottom of the Eastern Conference would qualify, then, as a major surprise. But a funny thing has happened over the course of the match-ups less than a week apart between these two teams: the Sens have looked like the play-off contender we all thought they would be, while the Habs have looked like the cast of misfits everyone predicted would be at the bottom of the league. It's darkly funny that the Sens have fallen so far that this turn of events can't be truly savoured, but damned if Ottawa hasn't totally outclassed Montreal twice in less than a week.
The Sens took control of this game in the first period, thanks to relentless pressure, speed with the puck through the neutral zone, and some opportunistic finishing. At times this year, Ottawa's shown flashes of all three of these attributes, but rarely all at the same time. First Ridly Greig notched a short-handed tally after Jake Allen couldn't handle an Erik Brännström point shot:
Then Jake Sanderson beat Allen with a wrister from the slot less than a minute later:
At the end of the first, the shots were 11-6 and the Habs barely had a look at the Sens' net. It was all Ottawa, to say the least.
The second period started much as the first ended and Shane Pinto found his way onto the scoreboard at 4v4 on a breakaway:
At this stage it was 3-0 nearly halfway through the game, the Habs were on track for less than 20 shots and by golly if the work didn't look it was basically over.
The good news if you're a Sens fan is that, yes, the work was indeed basically over as the Habs only ever got as close as 3-1 before Mathieu Joseph iced the game with an empty-netter for the 4-1 final. The not-so-great news is that outside of an extended run of power play time in the early part of the third, Ottawa sat back heavily and Montreal responded with wave after wave of attack. Joonas Korpisalo was tested severely, and he was mostly up to the challenge.
If there is a small negative to take away from tonight's performance, it's that the Sens did seem all too willing to let the game come to them with an awful lot of time left on the clock. It didn't burn them tonight, because Montreal is not a good team, but it's definitely something to watch against a better opponent.
Back to the good stuff: the Sens are 4-1-1 in their last six and have played excellent hockey for the most part throughout. This is the team that everyone expected at the start of the year. Is it a mirage or the real deal? Tune in on Thursday when a visit from the Boston Bruins will provide a real test.
-The Sanderson-Artem Zub pairing has been absolutely en fuego since being reunited after Chabot returned from injury. Tonight they both had some stellar moments, and just generally helped to control play at all times.
-While I don't think it's reasonable to blame the Sens' failures this season on the absence of their third line centre, there's no denying that with a healthy Pinto back in the line-up the forward group looks much improved. Full credit to the young centre for being ready go; he hasn't looked rusty at all.
-Don't look now but Korpisalo has a .935 SV% in his last three games. Maybe it was the goalie coach?! Somehow?!
-I guess I'm obligated to write something about Arber Xhekaj here because he tried to stir stuff up in the third but honestly, like Brendan Gallagher last week, I just can't be bothered to care about him. He's not good, and he's just not worth spilling ink over. The end.
-Feeling so good about Ottawa's recent run of play that I'll be damned if I didn't do the same: