What a difference 1 player can make.
Alex Kovalev returned from knee surgery just in time to take on the Ottawa Senators. Kovalev had a night to remember scoring his 300th career NHL goal and his 700th career point in lifting the Canadiens to a 4-3 shoot out victory.
The Canadiens trailed the Senators 3-0 despite outplaying them for most of the game. Sheldon Souray’s glasses were still at Lens Crafters when he left the puck behind the net for Jason Spezza who easily wrapped it into the gaping cage. At that point it looked like it was going to be ‘one of those games’. You don’t spot a team like Ottawa such trashy goals.
Claude Julien was forced to really juggle his line combinations. Due to injuries or due to poor performance? Probably both. There were several strange first time line combos such as Ryder, Sundstrom and Begin, and they worked. The Canadiens out hustled the Sens for the most part and only fell down 3-0 due to a stream of 1 sided penalties. Then the Kovalev show began.
Kovalev collected his 700th career point after stepping right through the Ottawa defense and firing a shot that rebounded straight to Sundstrom. 3-1. But team’s just don’t go down 3-0 to Ottawa and expect to win. Only 1 time this year has a team beaten Ottawa after they score first.
Who else could score another and make the game interesting? His initials are M.R and no it wasn’t Mario Roberge. Michael Ryder ripped a shot over a bumbling Hasek after taking one of Andrei Markov’s tape to tape laser passes. 3-2.
It seemed to stun Ottawa a bit and the Habs were all over them. Kovalev seemed to be triple shifted all night and there he was again behind the net as he drew a 4 minute high sticking penalty after a gash on the nose from Ottawa’s Meszaros. Markov found Kovalev near the face off dot and his pass was dead on, Kovalev ripped a wrister to the top corner that few other if any player could have made. 3-3.
Cristobal Huet played well enough when he needed to and got a couple lucky posts that haven’t been going our way lately. Brining the 3-3 game to a shoot out.
Cristobal Huet vs Dominik Hasek? Cristobal Huet in his second game back after 2 years. Against the highest scoring team in the league? Hmm.
Well Huet did the job and stopped Dany Heatley’s attempt to go 5 hole. Send in the Canadiens secret weapon, Pierre Dagenais. For some reason he’s got the shoot out down, he beat Hasek easily and after Daniel Alfredsson made a rare error and missed the net, it was up to Kovalev.
Kovalev ripped another laser shot into the same spot as Dagenais. Game over. Habs come back from a 3-0 defecit to beat the Senators. Game of the year. Overall Hasek looked fairly ordinary in the shootout. Perhaps Pierre Dagenais should have taken the 1998 Olympic penalty shot against Hasek instead of Brendan Shannahan.
Efforts like that one lead you to believe the Canadiens can contend with any team in the league. They proved they can, but 1 game is just that, 1 game. It’s time to get consistent. With Kovalev in the lineup it appears they are much closer to being able to do that. I doubted that Kovalev was that big an impact, when he went down the Canadiens were on a winning streak and most assumed they’d miss him but still contend. Kovalev’s impact on the team really is substantial and he’s proving he’s worthy of every penny.