The Senators had every reason to come out strong on Saturday afternoon. Ever-decreasing opportunities to make up ground in a playoff race. A chance to make up two points on a team that the Senators' would likely have to bypass. Their captain, Daniel Alfredsson, making a heroic return from a broken jaw. But it was all for nothing, and the Canadiens' Alex Kovalev--also returning to the lineup, but for an altogether different reason than Alfie--took over the game in the first, getting three points on four goals in the game's first 27 minutes.
The Habs came out strong in the first, and it didn't help that the Sens gave them three powerplay opportunities in that period--and Montreal capitalized on two of 'em, with goals from Tomas Plekanec and Mathieu Schneider. Their even-strength goal came from Kovalev, off a turnover from Chris Kelly, weak coverage by Chris Phillips, and poor positioning on the part of Brian Elliott. Ells was pulled after the third goal in favour of Alex Auld.
Shean Donovan tried to get his team going with a fight early in the second, but it didn't quite have the desired effect. On their fourth powerplay, Patrice Brisebois scored to put the Habs up 4-0. It would turn out to be the game-winning goal.
Jarkko Ruutu scored a minute after Brisebois, and a couple minutes after that Dany Heatley scored his first of the game--it looked like the Senators may have been on their way back into the game. But Mathieu Dandenault scored off a juicy Auld rebound late in the second, and not even another Heatley goal in the third could get the Sens back into it.
Special teams were the story. Montreal's powerplay went 3-for-4, and their penalty kill was 6-for-7. That, in the end, did the Senators in on the night. Ottawa outshot the Canadiens 47-32, including a game-high seven from Heatley as well as five from each of Filip Kuba and the recently-reacquired Mike Comrie, but Jaroslav Halak was up to the task for the Canadiens. As good as Kovalev was, Halak was the Habs' best player on the night.
Another disturbing stat? Ottawa had 16 giveaways (Jason Smith had a team-high four of them), and only five takeaways. Tough to balance those numbers.
The good news for the Senators is that both Comrie and Chris Campoli played very well in their debuts. Campoli, obviously, had the more notable first game with a couple of assists, and he was one of only four Senators on the plus side of the ledger (only Heatley, Alfredsson, and Jason Spezza were also pluses). But Comrie played with plenty of intensity and made some chances, and looked pretty good as well.
Ottawa's got two more shots at the Canadiens this season. Although the nails are about as close to hammered into Ottawa's coffin as they can be right now, it would be nice to play spoiler a little bit more.