Ottawa 4 Montreal 0
Ray Emery collects his first career shutout. Though he didn’t face a ton of action, Emery came through when called upon. There were points in the game where the Habs were pressuring hard but Emery made the big saves to keep them scoreless. Montreal wasn’t able to sustain their offense. What impresses me most about Ray Emery is his poise. You’d never know he’s a rookie based on how he is able to compose himself under pressure. It’s an especially surprising characteristic because one of the major knocks against Emery in the past has been his temper. When playing in junior, and later the AHL, “Rayzor” was as known for his fists as he was his play between the pipes. Clearly, there’s been a maturation. Much has been made about how the Sens are ill-equipped for when the inevitable Dominik Hasek injury occurs, but the truth is, though it certainly would not be the ideal scenario, I would be comfortable with Emery playing goal. He’s proven himself against some good teams, and though you never know how someone will fare in that spot until they’re put into it (see Miikka Kiprusoff), based on how he’s played this season, Emery doesn’t look, to me, like the liability everyone else implies he is. In addition to getting the first shutout of his NHL career, Emery sets a league record for the longest streak of undefeated games by a goalie to start his career.
Chris Neil and Mike Fisher’s work ethic. It was nice to see Neil back with the team, and he and his good friend Fisher picked up right where they left off. This time playing alongside Vaclav Varada, who earned the upgrade with his strong consistent play over the last three games, they continued to do exactly what the coach requires from them: forechecking hard, finishing their checks, and winning battles along the boards.
The play of the defence as a group. Since Wade Redden has gone down, they have, with the exception of one player, elevated their play and picked up the slack. That’s required when a major piece of the puzzle goes down, however, it doesn’t happen with the regularity that you’d think. It forces players to take on bigger roles than they’re used to, and often, they can’t handle it. I’m impressed that, for the most part, this group has proven they’re capable of it.
Martin Havlat goes down with an injury. After getting a small monkey off his back by scoring his first goal in six games, Havlat went hard into the boards a few shifts later. He was forced to leave the game and has been diagnosed with a dislocated shoulder. “Mach 9” has already missed six games this season due to the suspension and a minor groin injury. There is no indication on how long he’ll be out of action. Apparently, dislocated shoulder injuries are difficult to timetable so he could be back in a few weeks. Worst case scenario, however, has him out a few months. Keep your fingers crossed.
Antoine Vermette’s bad penalties. If Bryan Murray was trying to motivate the Ashton Kutcher lookalike by calling him out in the media, he should consider the attempt unsuccessful. Vermette was demoted from the second line, where he was centering Peter Schaefer and Havlat, and returned back to the fourth unit. A line he’s no stranger to since that’s where he started the season. At the time, he complained openly to the press about his dissatisfaction with his role. He wanted to be a bigger contributor. However, it wasn’t his pleas in the papers that got him promoted, but rather his consistent play. He got away from that though, and so he again finds himself playing limited minutes in a role he’s not happy with. The only way he’ll get back up the line-up is by improving his play. Taking three penalties is not the way to do it. The last one was a pretty bad call, however, the first two, both in the first period, were just a result of poor play.
Chris Phillips caught out of position. I think we can officially say Phillips is in a rut of sorts, because he’s hasn’t been playing like the solid blueliner that got him on Team Canada’s shortlist for the Olympics. There were at least two instances last night where Phillips’ poor positioning lead to rushes for the Canadiens.
Last night was not the right game to judge the merits of the Canadiens, as they were without some major pieces. In addition to no Alexei Kovalev, their blueline was in shambles. Sheldon Souray’s out with an injury, Andrei Markov, who’s probably been their best defenceman this season, is suspended for three games after allegedly shoving one of the linesman after their Saturday night OT loss to the Leafs, and Mike Komisarek went back home to tend to a personal matter. They tried to call up Ron Hainsey but he didn’t clear waivers and was claimed by the Blue Jackets. As a result, they were forced to play with five defenceman, with their fifth, Jean-Phillipe Cote, playing his first career game. If anything though, it exposed their lack of depth at D, and makes me wonder why they chose a goalie with their 5th overall pick when there were some aces at that position available.
With that kind of situation, defencemen like Mathieu Dandenault and Craig Rivet were forced to log minutes they’re simply not able to (almost 29 for Dandenault and a little over that number for Rivet). It’s no wonder they didn’t win. I’m sure some Habs fans will lament about the ineffectiveness of their D, but I wouldn’t panic too much.
Where I would worry, however, is up front. Even without Kovalev, they still have enough forwards who, in theory, should be able to score some goals. It’s not happening. Their forwards are all in a terrible slump. Chief among them is former Sen Radek Bonk, who holds the franchise record for the most games played in an Ottawa uniform. He was brought to Montreal with the role of the third line checking center, which is a good position for Bonk to play. He was asked to be a number one center in Ottawa, and we all saw how that went. However, at almost $3 million a year, that’s a pretty hefty price to pay a guy. I imagine GM Bob Gainey thought he’d get some offence from Bonk. It hasn’t happened. He remains goalless. In spite of that, though, I felt like he had a pretty solid game last night, as he and linemate Jan Bulis were generating some chances for the Habs. It was the people who are expected to score that didn’t bring their A game with any consistency. The likes of Saku Koivu, Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder, Richard Zednik, and rookie Alexander Perezhogin, who’s cooled off considerably after starting the year on a tear. If the Habs are to stay neck-and-neck with Ottawa in the standings, they’ll need these guys to turn it around as much as they do from the much maligned former Senator.
A familiar face, as the Senators travel to Boston to face the Bruins for the fourth time this season. So far, Ottawa owned them, going 3-0. Based on what’s coming out of the Boston media, and what Bruins fans are saying, the team looks to be quite close to a complete overhaul. They’ve already started moving small pieces, first trading away Dave Scatchard last week to get defenceman David Tanabe, and today waiving both former Senator Shawn McEachern and toughguy Colton Orr. McEachern, who actually started the season with the opportunity to play alongside Joe Thornton and Glen Murray, has been under fire all season for his bad play so it’s no surprise they’ve cut bait with him. Orr, however, has to be somewhat perplexing. Whenever he was inserted into the line-up, Orr did his job very well, and has already made a name for himself in the league with a handful of impressive performances when dropping the gloves.
The talk is that head coach Mike Sullivan’s head is on the chopping block, and it’s only a matter of when, not if, he’ll be the first bench boss to be handed a pink slip this season. But based on the fact that GM Mike O’Connell has now moved two of his offseason acquisitions in trades, essentially admitting he was wrong, it seems to be his job should be in just as much jeopardy as the coach he hired.
How all this turmoil will affect the Thursday night game remains to be seen. One school of thought would be that with their backs against the wall, the Bruins will be a dangerous club. They still have the horses to be a competitive team. However, it’s probably more likely that they’re spinning their wheels until the foreseeable shakeup takes place. On paper, it should be a cakewalk for Ottawa.