SENATORS 5, CANADIENS 4
MONTREAL — The auditions are all but over for the Ottawa Senators.
We’ve reached the phase of training camp where the focus is about getting ready for the start of the regular season against the Buffalo Sabres Oct. 13 on the road.
Slowly, but surely, the Senators are rounding into form, but they’ve still got work to do after a 5-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
The Senators were good from start to finish as Claude GIroux, Alex DeBrincat, Mathieu Joseph and Shane Pinto led the way with two-point efforts while Tyler Motte also chipped in with a goal as Ottawa scored its second straight win of the exhibition schedule over the Habs.
Anton Forsberg was solid, but this game was a roller-coaster ride in the final five minutes. Not long after Tkachuk restored a two-goal lead, Arber Xhekaj pulled the Habs back to within a goal only 18 seconds later. Earlier, Cole Caufield had cut Ottawa’s lead 4-3.
Playing the second of four straight games against the Habs to close out the preseason, the Senators didn’t leave many regulars back in Ottawa. Centre Mark Kastelic, battling for a fourth-line job, and defenceman Erik Brannstrom were both in the lineup.
After sending 19 players to the club’s AHL affiliate in Belleville on the weekend, the Senators will take 30 players to Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick for the final two games. From there, the club will make its final cuts and then prepare to face the Sabres to get the season started.
Given all the changes made by general manager Pierre Dorion, coach D.J. Smith and the rest of the hockey operations staff in the summer, this camp has been about trying to find cohesive units.
“We just have to have (everybody) get back to doing what they do,” Smith said. “One thing about the NHL is it’s a lot about reps, it’s about repetition of your systems, breakouts, offensive-zone play, getting to know guys, and that’s what we need to do over the next week.
“Whether it’s practice or games, we’re going to snap our fingers and we’re going to be playing Buffalo pretty quickly here. We’ve got (the work) in and we’ve got to get feeling good.”
The Senators scored a 5-4 overtime win over the Habs on Saturday at home. Given the fact Smith was dressing his top three lines, he wanted to see this group pick up where it left off. This team has to be firing on all cylinders by the time the season arrives.
“I want to see more of us tracking, more of us breaking out cleaner and with these lines I want to see us hold onto the puck a lot longer,” Smith said before facing the Habs. “I was us to play that half-ice game that we were good at down the stretch last year.
“Montreal has a little better lineup with (Nick) Suzuki and (Cole) Caufield playing so the competition is going to be better.”
With Cam Talbot out at least a month with a cracked rib, the ball is in Forsberg’s court to carry this team once the year gets underway. He got a little help from his friends, but was solid as the Senators were ahead 4-2 after 40 minutes.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Pinto continued his preseason scoring streak by firing a bullet by Sam Montembeault with only 1:07 left in the second. Pinto went upstairs from the right circle for his fourth of the preseason.
Not long after the Habs scored twice in a span of 44 seconds to tie it up, Motte continued to show why he was a solid pickup for this team. He fired a wrist shot from that blueline that found its way through Montembeault to give the Senators a 3-2 lead at 11:10 of the second.
Montreal’s David Savard tied it at 9:04 by beating Forsberg while going to the net. It was Joel Armia who got the Habs on the board at 8:20.
The Senators pulled to a 2-0 lead only 5:52 into the second. Going to the net, Giroux took a perfect pass from DeBrincat and redirected it by Montembeault. That should have resulted in the Senators taking control of this one, but nothing is easy.
It sure does feel like Kastelic won’t be going anywhere. He’s doing everything he can to make the opening night roster. Just for good measure, he dropped the gloves with Xhekaj in the first period and this was payback for the rookie tourney in Buffalo.
Xhekaj, who has had an excellent camp for the Habs himself, knocked a couple of Ottawa players out of the rookie tourney in Buffalo last month. Kastelic was given an extra roughing penalty, but that’s OK because it showed he’ll do anything for his teammates.
The Senators were up 1-0 after the first.
DeBrincat ended Saturday’s game with the OT winner on the power play and opened the scoring with the man advantage in the first with his third of the preseason. He took a perfect pass from Giroux in the right circle and beat Montembeault stick side at 3:13 of the first.
The breathless complaints about the way Smith was employing his power play units aren’t being heard anymore.
The Senators will head to Gander, N.L., on Wednesday.
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