Success fleeting for Canadiens

The goalmouth area in front of Ottawa goalie Brian Elliott is a hub of activity in the Senators'...

The goalmouth area in front of Ottawa goalie Brian Elliott is a hub of activity in the Senators' 2-0 win over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Monday night, March 22.(Eric Bolte, QMI Agency)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:16 PM ET

MONTREAL - The drama in the nether rankings of the Eastern Conference comes not from the quality of play, but in the stunning reversal of fortunes for the teams falling over each other in the stumble to the finish line.

The Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators were two teams on divergent paths Monday night, but with a chance to wrap their arms around fifth place in the East and deepen their well of confidence, the Habs came out with a stunningly flat performance and lost 2-0 to the Senators.

The Habs went into the game with points in seven-straight games and were the hottest team in the East. The Senators had lost five straight and were the worst team in the league since the Olympic break.

“We were losing battles,” said Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov. “We lost every one.”

So, this is life in the East. From the fifth spot on down, no team seems capable of bursting from the knot of the five teams separated by six points.

The Habs remain in seventh place in the East with 79 points, same as the Philadelphia Flyers (who have played one less game), just three points up on the listless Boston Bruins and four ahead of the (unexpected adjective alert) “surging” Atlanta Thrashers in ninth. The Bruins suddenly hold two games in hand and the Thrashers one and the playoff spot that looked like such a sure thing for the Habs is suddenly anything but.

The Canadiens fussed with the puck all night, large gaps between the puck carrier and teammates, surrendered a half-dozen odd-man rushes and looked nothing like the team that had just reeled off six-straight wins.

The Senators looked oddly poised for a team that had won only once in regulation play since the Olympic break.

“They frustrated us,” said Canadiens forward Brian Gionta. “We came out slow, we didn’t initiate. It comes down to that. We could ever get our rhythm after that. We’ve got to find a way to turn our game around when it’s not going our way.”

This morning, the world for both teams has been turned upside down.

The Canadiens now start a sequence of three games in four nights in Buffalo Wednesday before coming home to play Florida Thursday and New Jersey Saturday.

The only good news on the night for the Habs appeared to be about forward Travis Moen, who took the skate of Ottawa forward Matt Cullen in the face in the second period. He apparently suffered a cut to the face, but no damage to his eye, according to the club, and was treated at the Bell Centre.

HEAR AND THERE: It sounds like both the players and the league want a new rule on headshots, but not without some political wrangling first. The attempt to fast-track a headshot rule in the NHL is grinding along with the players prepared to submit a counterproposal to the league. The league submitted to the players its idea for a rule covering shoulder checks to the head area Friday. That’s after the players were talking about some kind of rule last summer which failed to yield a change.

Senators centre Jason Spezza said Monday the players have a made a small change to the rule, which he termed a “band-aid” solution to the problem, but it sure sounds like don’t want this new rule to be binding past the end of this season’s playoffs, allowing for all parties to sit down in the summer and make sure they’re putting in a rule that will stand the test of time. The players have apparently agreed to allow headshots of the type perpetrated by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke and Philly’s Mike Richards to be subject to supplementary discipline, but there won’t be any penalties for such hits in-game.

Make sense? Not really, but not much does in the push-and-pull of league/player relations.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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