Senators show few flaws vs. Montreal

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:20 PM ET

Chris Phillips threw a challenge at the feet of his teammates during the second intermission Thursday night.

To that point, the Senators had played remarkable defence, holding the Canadiens to just six shots on goal. So, prior to going out for the third, the veteran defenceman figured he'd dare them to maintain the three-a-period pace at which they had been holding the Habs.

"Keep it under 10," Phillips told the boys, "and I'll (make a little deposit) to the team fine fund."

Coach Bryan Murray was still chuckling at the subplot to the 3-0 victory -- which ultimately saw the Senators surrender 12 shots -- after yesterday's practice.

"There'd be a long shot at the net and guys would look up at the (shot) clock and say, "they're counting that?" said Murray.

While Phillips confirmed laying the friendly bet, he wouldn't reveal how much dough he threw on the table.

That's not the point, he said.

"It wasn't really about holding them to under 10, either," he said. "It was understanding we have a 3-0 lead and that we should be more concerned about not giving up any scoring chances. It was about playing strong defence more than anything."

That, they did to perfection.

ONE SCORING CHANCE

Along with outshooting Montreal 40-to-a-dozen, the coaching staff counted only one "scoring chance" for the Habs -- a Francis Bouillon, first-period effort that hit a screened and sprawled Dominik Hasek on the noggin.

Off the top of his own head, Murray, a veteran of 25 NHL seasons, couldn't recall one of his teams holding an opponent to just a single scoring chance, or the 2005-06 Senators keeping anyone to less than "six or seven."

Nor could he remember another odyssey like the one he had witnessed hours earlier -- in the second period, there were zero faceoffs in the Senators zone.

After the game, Hasek said it was his easiest shutout since he was 10 years old.

"With three or four minutes left I looked up and they only had nine shots," he said yesterday. "In the last two minutes they had two from the red line. What can you say about a game like that?"

Yee-hah!, if you're a coach.

The Senators, who next face the resurgent Bruins here Monday, have now won three straight and allowed just three goals since finishing up with the Western Conference for the season, abiding by Murray's wish of playing more of a shutdown, playoff style.

WEEK TOO EASY?

In fact lately, it almost appears as though one of the toughest opponents they're going to have is themselves.

Already leading the league in goals for -- plus having the NHL's fewest losses and goals against -- wins over Toronto and Montreal the past week were almost too easy.

Hasek spoke of beating the Leafs "easily" and his team's confidence to beat anybody, "especially Toronto" following 7-0 and 4-3 victories in the Battle of Ontario.

"When we play well, when we play the way we're supposed to, we can beat them anytime," he added.

In the final seconds of the one-goal game -- after Mats Sundin had just failed to connect with a bouncing puck that would have led to overtime -- Daniel Alfredsson took the puck in his own end and, rather than flipping it to safety, dipsy-doodled through the Leafs in his own zone and neutral ice until the buzzer sounded.

"I think it's confidence," the captain said later when asked why he chose to dangle at that delicate moment.

Confidence is good, but couldn't too much of it become a bad thing?

Murray doesn't see it as a potential problem here and he points to a guy like Phillips (whom he says is one of the more underrated Senators and one of the best defensive defencemen "in this division, anyway") as to one of the reasons why.

"That was the good thing about the down cycle we had," Murray said, referring to the stretch that saw the Senators lose 3-of-4 near the start of the month. "They saw that, if you don't have emotion or focus, if you don't play your position, on any given night, for the most part, any team can beat you. I think our players recognize that."

Phillips chuckled when asked about the brash statements made by Hasek recently.

A LITTLE BIT COCKY

"I think that's a difference here this season, we have a little cockiness, but not in a bad way," he said.

"We have a confidence not that every game is going to be a blowout, but if we're ever down in the third period, we're going to get that one goal we need to come back. We're confident that we're never out of a game."

And quite capable of playing kitty-bar-the-door, too.

don.brennan@ott.sunpub.com


Photos