Still Talkin’ Habs: Canadiens lose feisty affair to Ottawa 6-3

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price stops Ottawa Senators' Clark Bishop during third period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, April 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

The Montreal Canadiens were guilty of too many self-inflicted wounds they could not overcome as their multiple comeback bids fell short in last night’s 6-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators.

To the neutral observer, last night’s Habs loss to the Sens must have been highly entertaining: turnovers galore, numerous scrums after the whistle and nine goals split between the two teams.

Canadiens fans, though, were surely less than thrilled that their team followed up two dominant performances with a stinker that, despite their struggles, was there for the taking.

“We were kind of just chasing the game the whole game today,” said Tyler Toffoli, after scoring on his return to the lineup following a two-week layoff due to injury. “Obviously Gally didn’t mean to do it…from then on we were chasing it. That’s not the recipe for success in any game against any team.”

The moment Toffoli referenced post-game foreshadowed the difficult night ahead for the Habs.

Brendan Gallagher’s four-minute high sticking penalty led to Brady Tkachuk’s opening goal just 42 seconds into the game. Toffoli answered just a few minutes later but it kicked off a pattern that repeated itself throughout the rest of the game and prevented the home team from generating any real momentum.

A goal was scored at one end and then conceded at the other, repeat and repeat.

Despite playing well below their best the Canadiens had a plethora of chances to take control of the contest, particularly in the first period when Ottawa took four minor penalties in a row.

Now what was generated on those power plays could best be described as half chances but they could have broken the game wide open had they gone in. Corey Perry tipped a bullet pass from Jesperi Kotkaniemi just over the bar, cursing his stick and looking skyward afterwards. Toffoli had the best chances via a tip in the slot and a partial breakaway that were both stopped by Senators goalie Anton Forsberg.

The Habs' leading goal scorer turned out to be the poster boy for the team’s uneven showing as he started brightly but faded down the stretch.

Toffoli at least had the built-in excuse of being rusty from his recent stay on the shelf.

Jeff Petry, on the other hand, has been anything but rusty this season, but the Habs defenceman and arguably the MVP of their season so far had his worst game of the year.

Plus-minus is not usually a stat that sums up the performance of a player. If so Joel Edmundson, not Petry, would be at the forefront of the Norris Trophy conversation, but Petry’s minus five was an apt representation of his tough night at the office. His poor pass to Tomas Tatar led to Connor Brown’s shorthanded goal to put Ottawa up 2-1. His miscommunication with Kotkaniemi left Evgeni Dadonov all alone in front to give the Sens a 4-2 lead. He had his pocket picked directly in front of his own net for Alex Formenton’s back breaker to make it 5-3.

He has been otherworldly for the Canadiens this season so he, perhaps more so than anyone else on the team, merits a pass for a poor game. But the team’s disjointed play in all three zones highlighted just how drastically they can fall off a cliff when their best blueliner is having an off night.

Petry clearly wasn’t the only player to struggle.

There were only a handful who didn’t.

Carey Price kicked off April, after a terrific month of March, with a game that will have his critics foaming at the mouth. On top of being the main culprit on Ottawa’s second due to poor rebound control, he wasn’t able to come up with timely saves to swing the momentum in his team’s favour. Dadonov’s second and Formenton’s goal may not have been directly his fault, but his team needed a save and he couldn’t provide one.

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price stops Ottawa Senators' Clark Bishop during second period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, April 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

All that to say, do not despair Canadiens fans.

If you look at the totality of the week, the Habs are in pretty good shape. The team won twice and lost once. Do that between now and the end of the season and they’ll surely be a playoff team. Thanks to Calgary and Vancouver falling off a cliff of late, the Canadiens still hold a sizeable six-point lead over both teams with multiple games in hand. The Habs basically have to win three of their remaining five games against the Flames and go .500 the rest of the way. That is quite a manageable goal for interim head coach Dominique Ducharme to set for his players the final five weeks of the season.

The most positive thing that came out of another strange performance against the Senators was the ego check it provided for the players.

Ottawa dragged Montreal into the rough stuff and played the game on their terms. It should provide a lesson for their remaining three matchups against the Sens. Will the Canadiens learn from last night’s mistakes? Stay tuned.

Player Ratings

Goaltender

Carey Price – 5/10

The fifth time this season he’s given up five goals or more. Should have done better on Tkachuk and Brown’s goals, for which he was directly responsible. Team could have used a timely save on either Dadonov’s second or Formenton’s goal which he couldn’t make. Harsh yet true. But his play in March gives confidence that last night was a one off.

Defencemen

Shea Weber – 6/10

Found himself on the scoresheet thanks to two secondary assists. Also on the scoresheet for a long overdue fight with Tkachuk. Lots of swings and misses there. Had some chances on the power play in the first but his bombs couldn’t find the back of the net. Got hemmed in quite a few times in his own zone. Passing was wayward again.

Joel Edmundson – 6/10

Somehow was plus one on the night as he continues to lead the league in that stat at plus 30. Quietly led the team in ice time on the back end. But like his partner struggled with distribution and got over run by Senators forwards in his own end. Plays a simple game but wasn’t straightforward last night.

Jeff Petry – 5/10

Felt like he unleashed all of the mistakes he didn’t make the first half of the season in one game. Directly responsible for two of the Senators goals and his poor read led to another. When asked post-game if there’s anything he’d take from last night’s game, he said, “Nothing.” Hope so.

Brett Kulak – 6/10

Not nearly as bad as his partner but not very good either. His pass to Petry that led to Formenton’s back breaker put him in a horrible spot. Indecisive on Dadonov’s second as he drifted out of position and stayed there. Didn’t push the play into the offensive zone either. An off night for him.

Alexander Romanov – 7/10

Led the blueline with four hits. Passing was a little iffy on more than one occasion and made a couple questionable decisions with the puck on his stick. But he looked more assured than almost every other blueliner. Would like to see him have a little more confidence in the offensive zone and is struggling to get his shot through. But he continues to grow.

Victor Mete – 8/10

The true lone bright spot on the blueline last night. If he can bottle up that performance the coaching staff will be jumping for joy. His passing was excellent, especially some long stretch passes through the neutral zone. Held his own against the Senators forecheck as well and didn’t get physically outmatched. Constantly activated himself in the offensive zone which had Ottawa scrambling at times. His play at the blueline led directly to Anderson’s first. Another step in the right direction.

Forwards

Nick Suzuki – 7/10

Fantastic assist on Toffoli’s goal as he put it right in his wheelhouse for the one-timer. Got another one on Anderson’s second. Tied for the lead in hits amongst forwards with five which is surprising. But struggled on the power play and wasn’t particularly influential at even strength. Fantastic night in the faceoff dot as he won 72 percent of his draws.

Corey Perry – 6/10

Would like to see another game with him skating alongside Suzuki and Anderson to get a better idea of what they can do together. Was at his disruptive best last night as he did all he could to upset the Senators defencemen in front of their net. Didn’t generate a whole lot offensively though. Nearly set up Gallagher for one of those classic in tight, power play goals but it just didn’t come off. No shots on goal however. But like the idea from the coaching staff.

Josh Anderson – 8/10

His third multiple goal game of the season was one of the few positives on the night. Led the forwards in ice time. His first was a perfect shot top corner that no one could have stopped. His second was thanks to a fortunate bounce that fell to him in the slot towards the end of the second that gave the Habs life going into the third. Not as physical as he usually is but didn’t take any nonsense from the Sens after the whistle. Was willing to take guys on all night.

Phillip Danault – 6/10

Like that his confidence continues to grow offensively as he set up some decent chances in the first. But his defensive coverage left something to be desired, particularly not picking up Dadonov on his tip-in first of the night. His line was never able to really cycle effectively which is their strength. Not a lot of offensive zone time.

Brendan Gallagher – 6/10

Did what he could on a night where he was clearly hurting. His four-minute penalty to start the game was far from ideal. But after that he just did what he always does which is try and get to the front of the net. The best of his chances was an attempted jam play on a sprawling Forsberg that somehow didn’t go in.

Tomas Tatar – 5/10

A ghost. No shots on goal and no real memorable moments from the Slovak. Needed to be more involved. An off night after two above average games midweek. His wave of the power play strangely struggled last night, which hasn’t happened often since Ducharme has been in charge.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi – 6/10

A weird game from the young centreman. Had the pass of the night cross ice to set up Anderson’s first. One of the few who played with purpose on the power play. But at even strength his line didn’t accomplish much. Lost his head for a moment on Dadonov’s first as he left the Russian all alone in front. An average game from him like so many of his teammates. A little more physicality please.

Jonathan Drouin – 6/10

A rare anonymous night from him. Didn’t do much of anything influential offensively but was committed to getting back into position defensively. Made some odd decisions on the power play that didn’t come off. Did have four shots on goal which is a nice change of pace.

Tyler Toffoli – 7/10

Welcome back to the Habs top goal scorer. A terrific shot to the team on the board in the first. Had to terrific chances to put them in the lead on the breakaway and with a high tip but both were stopped by Forsberg. Had some half chances in the second but denied by the post on a wraparound attempt and just missed wide on a contested shot. Clearly still struggling to get into game shape as he faded the further along the game got. An encouraging return.

Jake Evans – 6/10

He can’t put up two assists every game. Won 64 per cent of his faceoffs which is nice and one of the few Habs who regularly did something on the forecheck. Likely will be sitting on Monday night for Eric Staal so maybe could have done more. But solid enough.

Artturi Lehkonen – 6/10

He looked very lively in the first period as he disrupted things deep in the Senators zone, but faded as the game wore on. Made a curious play early while driving to the net where he passed to Byron instead of jamming it in on Forsberg. His last real memorable contribution. Four shots on goal though. Best shot chance was rifled wide though from in the slot.

Paul Byron – 5/10

Like Lehkonen looked up for the game early on. But in the end his stat line read one shot on net. That’s it. Needs to do more before Armia is set to return if he wants to stay in the lineup.

Coach

Dominique Ducharme – 7/10

Not sure what his coaching could have done last night. Maybe could have left the forward lines untouched but with Toffoli returning tried something different. Has the potential to work going forward. Power play was dysfunctional last night. His players struggled to execute. Not really a result you can hang on the coach.

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