The Ottawa Senators beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in overtime on Sunday at the Canadian Tire Centre. Brady Tkachuk’s overtime goal gave Ottawa their fifth win in 20 games this season. Drake Batherson and Josh Norris also scored for the Senator who improved their record to 2-1-0 against the Habs.
Let’s dive in!
Item One: Murray Owns the Net
The Senators have now won three of their last five games, and goaltender Matt Murray posted his third win of the season. His last victory was also against the Canadiens on February 4.
Murray let in an early goal when Nick Suzuki beat him high glove side less than two minutes into the game. Although that’s one he would like to have back, Murray was solid the rest of the way. Tkachuk called Murray the MVP of the game, and he has been the team’s best player this season.
Heading into Tuesday’s rematch against Montreal, Murray’s numbers have improved to a .883 save percentage (SV%), and his goals-against average (GAA) is down to 3.66. In February, he has a .929 SV% or higher in five of the eight games he’s played.
With Marcus Hogberg out nursing an upper-body injury, expect the Senators to ride Murray for at least the next week. Ottawa has no back-to-back games until March 1-2, and then not again until March 7-8. Until Joey Daccord finds his game – he has allowed 10 goals in two starts in Belleville (AHL) – the backup goalie will likely be doing little more than opening and closing the bench door during games.
Item Two: The D Steps Up
Thomas Chabot was out of the lineup in Sunday’s win over the Habs. He is the backbone of the Senators’ blue line, averaging 25:29 of ice time per game. He also leads the Senators’ defencemen with nine points in 17 games.
Heading into Sunday’s game, the Senators had allowed 15 goals in the two games Chabot had missed. Even with Chabot in the lineup, Ottawa is the worst defensive team in the league, and many expected the Canadiens to score at least five goals, given their speed and Tyler Toffoli’s recent scoring streak.
Apart from Montreal’s second goal when Corey Perry corkscrewed Erik Gudbranson before beating Murray to tie the game and send it into overtime, Ottawa’s defence played a much better game. It was a huge confidence builder for the team who proved they can still compete even when Chabot is not available.
Item Three: Rough Starts
The Canadiens scored at the 1:17 mark of the first period on Sunday. Giving up early goals has plagued the Senators for the past few seasons. If the team wants to get on a roll and win a few more games, they can’t keep playing from behind. In 16 of their first 20 games, they gave up the first goal. Six times this season, they have given up a goal in the first six minutes of the game. At the 10-minute mark, that number increases.
The defence has to be better early in the first period, and so does the goaltending.
Item Four: The Shots Keep Coming
Although the Senators have had some trouble finishing on their scoring chances, they are getting the puck to the net. After Sunday’s game, the team improved from fourth to third in the NHL in shots per game, with 32.3. They trail only Montreal and the Florida Panthers in that category.
Unfortunately, they are 28th in goals allowed per game at 2.35, ahead of the Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks.
However, they have more stability in their lineup now than they did to start the season. Veteran Evgenii Dadonov was hot last week with six goals in six games, and young stars like Batherson, Norris and Tim Stützle are starting to find the back of the net.
The Senators will not likely contend for the league-lead in goals per game, but reaching the middle of the pack is a realistic expectation as the season goes on.
What’s Next for the Senators?
After the second Montreal game, the Senators will face the Calgary Flames (8-9-1) in five of their next six games. They will play three at home, then travel to Montreal for one game, and then visit Calgary for two.
The Flames are the only team in the North Division that the Senators have yet to face. With a Tkachuk brother on each team, we can expect an emotional series. If the Senators get strong goaltending from Murray and continue to improve offensively, they could climb out the NHL’s basement. If not, the Flames could solidify their playoff chances over the next two weeks.
Jeff Morris has been a hockey writer for more than 30 years. He began his career working for small town newspapers in Eastern Ontario before becoming the editor of Canadian Sports Collector magazine in St. Catharines, ON. While there, he also freelanced as a Buffalo Sabres beat writer. Morris would move on to Dallas to become the NHL brand manager at Pinnacle Brands, Inc. From there, he worked in the sports trading card and collectibles division at Shop At Home TV in Nashville and Denver, and then moved to Seattle to be the VP of Marketing at Pacific Trading Cards, Inc. in Seattle. He had continued to cover the NHL as a freelance writer, and while in Seattle, he became a weekly hockey columnist for ESPN.com. During the 2005 NHL lockout, he returned to Ottawa and became a newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, and was also an NHL contributor for Fox Sports Radio. He also began covering the NHL for Hockeyology.com, and also covered the Ottawa Senators for his own publications. He went to Carleton University to study journalism, and graduated as the school’s all-time scoring leader in football and was a conference all-star three times. He had several pro tryouts and played semi-pro football for 10 years while pursuing his career as an NHL writer. He remains involved in football as a coach and referee, and is a Canadian Football League off-field official.