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Canadiens 3, Senators 2 (OT)
MONTREAL — The road hasn’t always been kind to the Ottawa Senators this season.
Well, at least this wasn’t totally pointless.
The Senators were able to erase a two-goal, third-period deficit, but they weren’t able to get the result as they dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to rookie goalie Cayden Primeau and the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night at the Bell Centre.
Only wingers Brady Tkachuk and Connor Brown were able to beat the 20-year-old Primeau, who picked up his first career win in only his second NHL start by making 35 stops. Tomas Tatar and Nick Cousins did the scoring on Ottawa goaltender Anders Nilsson in regulation.
Ben Chiarot scored at 1:11 of overtime on an odd-man rush for the Habs.
Coming off a 5-2 victory over the Boston Bruins on Monday at home, the Senators were sitting in Montreal waiting for the Habs while they spent Tuesday night skating to a 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road.
The Senators knew the challenge was to try to pick up where they left off against the Bruins, and, for the most part, they did that by playing well defensively and outplaying the Habs.
“We battled back and I thought we played well for the second half of that game,” said Tkachuk, who had a goal and an assist with eight shots on net. “They took it to us a little bit in the first. We knew if we just kept getting pucks on net there was going to be a bounce that goes in. We really focused on getting pucks on net.
“We just knew if we kept getting pucks on him there would be chances to score, and that was our main focus.”
Brown tied it up 2-2 with 6:55 remaining by beating Primeau with a backhander and suddenly this game had a different feel because it certainly didn’t look like he was going to give up two goals after shutting the door most of the night.
It looked like the Habs had taken control of the game when Tatar scored only 29 seconds into the third to give the club a 2-0 lead.
Tkachuk’s 11th of the season was a big one when he scored on the power play by beating Primeau from the slot at 4:30.
That made the third period a whole lot more interesting.
“Overall, our effort was good,” Senators coach D.J. Smith said. “Every team has there ups and downs, but we’ve played hard for most of the games, even the ones we haven’t won. This is certainly a special building, Original Six and how historic it is, so this is an easy one to get up for.”
Making only his second NHL start after stopping 32 shots in a 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 5, Primeau returned to the net and was solid for the Habs as the Senators were ahead on the shot clock 26-20 through 40 minutes but were down 1-0.
The fans were chanting Primeau’s name late in the second period and he was able to get across the net to halt Tkachuk on a 2-on-1. There’s no doubt the Senators were a frustrated lot because Primeau simply shut the door and when the Habs had a chance at the other end Nilsson was there to stand tall.
“Overall, we played a pretty good game,” said Nilsson, who faced 29 shots. “Montreal did a pretty good job of boxing us out. We didn’t get in front of their goalie as much as we wanted. It’s a tough way to lose. You always want those two points.”
The Senators got exactly what they expected from the Habs, but Ottawa looked like the team that was supposed to be battling for a playoff spot. There were a lot of times in this game when the Senators looked like they were in the driver’s seat, and it’s no wonder the Habs are concerned about where they’ll end up in April.
Tkachuk was a central figure in this one. After knocking over Primeau in the crease, Tkachuk had Montreal captain Shea Weber so frustrated he gave him an ugly crosscheck into the boards behind the net. A scrum ensued and both players ended up in the box with for roughing.
Anthony Duclair was given an extra minor for his actions during the pushing and shoving behind the net, which meant the Habs ended up with a power play.
While the Senators had no complaints about their start and even dominated the Habs by outshooting them 8-1 through the first 10 minutes, Montreal started using its speed and then pulled ahead with a power-play goal with 6:24 left in the first and, as a result, Ottawa trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes. The goal came when Cousins deflected a shot by Max Domi past Nilsson with Cody Goloubef in the box. Nilsson didn’t have a chance on that one, but the Senators had pushed the pace and deserved to be in a better position, but Primeau stood his ground. He looked solid and didn’t give up many big rebounds.
“It was a good effort by us down by two going into the third and to battle back,” said defenceman Thomas Chabot, who played 28:42 and picked up his 100th NHL point with an assist “To battle back and to get a point on the road, we’re proud of that, but we wanted to get the two in overtime.”
PAGEAU HITS 400-GAME MILESTONE
Jean-Gabriel Pageau couldn’t have picked a better stage for a milestone game in his NHL career.
There aren’t many places with an atmosphere like the Bell Centre across the NHL’s map, and that’s why Wednesday night against the arch-rival Canadiens felt like the perfect stage for the Senators centre to suit up for his 400th career game.
It’s been a long, sometimes difficult road for the 5-foot-10 Pageau, but the 27-year-old has worked hard to become an impact player since being drafted No. 96 overall from the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques in 2011. He’s proud of the accomplishment and is hopeful he has plenty of racetrack left in what’s a been a good career thus far.
“It’s fun. When you grow up, you always dream about playing in the NHL and you always dream about playing that first game, the draft and then to be able to play this game for so long I’m so grateful for all the teammates I have and I’ve had,” Pageau said before facing the Habs.
“It’s because of them that I’m still in the league, I think, (along with) all the staff and all the coaching that I’ve had along the way. I’m very grateful for all of that.”
When the Ottawa native says those words, he means them. He’s carved out his spot in the NHL, but he appreciates all the help he’s received along the way. He had to overcome the odds because a lot teams looked at his size and took a pass.
You can’t measure the size of someone’s heart, though, and Pageau plays with it every night, which is what general manager Pierre Dorion saw in him when the draft was held.
“Everyone has had their different path to the NHL,” he said. “Mine was the same way, I was smaller than everyone and not strong enough like everyone was saying so proving everyone wrong was my focus. So far it’s been going pretty well.”
An unrestricted free agent on July 1, Pageau has been one of the league’s most consistent goal scorers this season. He went into the game against Montreal with 16 goals and 23 points in 31 games, and those are pretty strong numbers.
“He’s a guy that’s been dependable for a long time and I think he’s playing more of an extended role in an offensive situation this year,” Smith said. “Through good defence, he’s creating some offence and he’s been great for our guys right from the start.
“He comes to play and we’ve got a good relationship and every so often I’ll tell him I need a little more here and a little more there. He’s a true pro and he’s been doing a great job.”
DUCLAIR HAS BEEN A BIG CONTRIBUTOR
A nice surprise this season has been the play of Duclair.
Dorion and the Senators’ pro scouts identified him as a player they wanted back as part of the Ryan Dzingel trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets last February, but the organization wasn’t sure how he’d perform in Ottawa.
The Senators looked at this as an opportunity to get a first-hand look at him, and he’s carried over his strong play from the end of last season into this year. He went into Wednesday’s visit to Montreal with 15 goals and 22 points in 31 games and in 52 games with Ottawa over parts of the last two seasons Duclair has 23 goals and 36 points.
His role has expanded under Smith, including using his speed to kill penalties, and Duclair has embraced the job he’s been given.
“You want to stay consistent. It’s a long year,” Duclair said. “Things are going well right now and I’ve just got to bring that every day. You’ve got to bring it to practice and you can’t really take any days off. You’ve always got to remember how you got here, how you got off to a hot start, and that’s why I’m working hard every day.”
Certainly, Smith has been pleased with what he’s seen from Duclair.
“He’s confident, he’s skating, he’s shooting the puck, and he’s at the point now where he’s in real good shape and he’s starting to see that, when he brings his best effort, he’s going to get chances in this league every night.
“There will be stretches where he’ll be streaky for sure, but he’s been good on the penalty kill and he got a shorty in Philadelphia the other night. For me, as long as he’s playing stress-free hockey and having fun, he’s going to score goals.”
THE LAST WORDS
Smith made no changes against the Habs. That meant defenceman Max Lajoie was a healthy scratch for the third straight game. Smith says if that’s going to continue to be the case, then the club will return Lajoie to its AHL affiliate in Belleville because Ottawa wants its young players on the ice. … Smith gave kudos to anthem singer Sophia Pierce for the strong start in the win over the Bruins on Monday. “I thought the job the little girl did with the anthem had the building alive and our players,” Smith said. “I’ve got to credit her for our start.” … The Senators will make their annual Christmas visit to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario on Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. It’s always special to see the smiles at this event.
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