MONTREAL - When Andrei Kostitsyn is going, he makes the Montreal Canadiens a different team.
Kostitsyn was the most visible reason the Habs came out of a 3-1 hole for a 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre Saturday night, ripping holes through the Ottawa defence with strong skating, opening lanes for linemates Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri and using his considerable shot.
Kostitsyn tied the game late in the second period on a power move to the net and assisted on the winner by Plekanec with four minutes to go in the game, leading the charge up the ice and opening the door for Plekanec to bury a rebound behind Ottawa goaltender Brian Elliott.
“Our line is so much stronger with him playing the way he is right now,” said Plekanec. “He’s doing what he does best, shooting the puck, hitting and going to the net. He opens up space for us.”
The line combined for 15 shots on the night (Cammalleri had eight, Plekanec, three and Kostitsyn, four).
The Senators had 19 as team.
The Canadiens (3-1-1) also got goals from captain Brian Gionta and Jeff Halpern.
Milan Michalek had two for the Senators (1-3-1) and one from Erik Karlsson.
Kostitsyn’s contributions helped the Habs get through another night when the power play - now 1-for-17 on the season - came up empty and the return of top defenceman Andrei Markov, recovering from a knee injury he sustained in the playoffs, probably can’t come soon enough.
He’s expected back by the end of the month.
The Canadiens power play was second in the league last year with a 21.8% efficiency, scoring 57 goals.
Kostitsyn was named the game’s first star, as selected by the fans. When he’s playing like this, he gives the Canadiens a solid top five forwards. They’re still searching for a sixth guy (Travis Moen played wing with Gionta and Gomez again Saturday night) with Benoit Pouliot not up to the job (he was on the fourth line Saturday) and rookie Lars Eller looking promising, but still green.
“If you play hard every game, there will be a lot of chances to score goals,” said Kostitsyn, “and feel more comfortable in the game.”
Plekanec said he senses a difference in Kostitsyn this year.
“He’s more involved,” he said. “Sometimes when he would sit when there was a lot of (penalty killing), he would get frustrated, but I haven’t seen him frustrated this year. He’s focusing on his game. He’s talking about the game more on the bench. I missed that a little bit from him. That ‘click’ part is there this year.”
While the Canadiens power play remained with but one goal on the season, it showed some life shortly after Halpern had scored from behind the net to make it 3-2 at 13:39 of the second. In a 4-on-3 situation, the foursome of Gionta, Cammalleri, Plekanec and P.K. Subban peppered Elliott with five shots and while it didn’t result in a goal, the sequence gave the Habs some momentum.
A minute after the penalty to Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson ended, the Canadiens tied it after jumping on a turnover in the neutral zone by Ottawa’s Peter Regin. Kostitsyn, looking more engaged, made a nice move around Senators defenceman Chris Campoli and roofed a shot over Elliott’s glove at 17:29 to tie it.
Montreal’s Carey Price, who had another good effort, then made a snappy glove save on Regin off a 2-on-1 to keep the game tied going into the second intermission.
It had been an eventful opening to the game for Michalek, who turned the puck over inside the Montreal line in the opening minute and didn’t give Gionta much grief as he raced away on a breakaway, beating Elliott with a nice move to his backhand.
But Michalek got that one back at 10:32, left with an open net off a rebound of an Alfredsson shot.
Price didn’t have much chance on Karlsson’s goal at 10:20 of the second to give the Senators a 2-1 lead as the young defenceman wired one over Price’s glove. Michalek’s second less than a minute later came on a nice move around Montreal defenceman Jaroslav Spacek and a backhander by Price.
The Canadiens next game is Thursday at home against the New Jersey Devils.