MONTREAL -- As he walked into the Bell Centre yesterday morning, a fellow had a batch of white, wooden hockey sticks wrapped in plastic hefted up on his shoulder.
"New batch of sticks for Jason Spezza, eh?" observed a couple of visitors from Ottawa, who held the door open for the man.
Spezza, one of the last players in the NHL to use wooden sticks, had his twig working for him last night, as the Senators centre scored his 29th and 30th goals of the season in the Senators' 3-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
"We knew it was a playoff-type game," said Spezza, who scored both goals with a stick out of the new batch and now has 14 points against the Habs in six games this season. "We're re-teaching ourselves to win games. It's good to know we can play with the lead."
The Senators, who continued to show steady improvement -- crisper puck movement, much better special teams and improved goaltending from Martin Gerber -- with Bryan Murray back behind the bench, moved back into top spot in the Northeast Division. They are tied with the Canadiens with 87 points, but have one more win (40, the fifth straight year they've had at least that many) with both teams having 72 games in the book. The Pittsburgh Penguins also have 87 points, but have played one less game. New Jersey is in first with 88 points.
"There's more confidence now. We're playing right and focusing on not giving up much," said Murray. "Our positioning is real good now. We're supporting the puck on the breakout and that's all we've been harping on."
The shutout was the second of the season for Gerber, who stopped 24 shots, and the ninth of his career.
Bolstered by the return of captain Daniel Alfredsson, who had missed four games with a sore back, the win was the Senators' third straight, making them 4-3-1 since Murray relieved former coach John Paddock of his duties. It's the first time they've strung together three straight wins since they reeled off four Jan. 4-12. They also improved to 5-1 against the Canadiens this season and sucked all the energy out of the Bell Centre with a tight and tidy defensive performance.
Spezza scored both of his goals without really taking a shot -- in the strictest sense of the word. Both came on the power play, the first a tip in front at 8:21 of the first that snuck by rookie Carey Price and the second a controversial goal that saw him bat the puck twice out of the air and bunt it in by the left post 27 seconds into the second period. The goal was reviewed and it was close as to whether Spezza had touched the puck with his stick above the crossbar.
The deuce with the man advantage made it three games in a row the Senators have scored two power-play goals.
Ottawa's Antoine Vermette scored his 17th with just under two minutes to go in the second period.
Alfredsson tested his back in the morning skate yesterday and made a bit of a surprise return to the lineup. He looked like his old self, controlling the puck on the power play that resulted in Spezza's first goal. Alfredsson didn't return to the top line with Spezza and Dany Heatley, however, as Murray chose to leave Randy Robitaille on right wing with those two and play Alfredsson with Stillman and centre Mike Fisher.
The Ottawa penalty killers, backed by Gerber's solid netminding, controlled the top power-play unit in the NHL.
"We did what we wanted to do, stay out of the box," said Gerber. "The power plays they had, we were able to take their good guys away.
"(At even strength) we had the third and fourth guys coming back and pushing hard and forcing them to make quick decisions. That's a key against Montreal."
So now things are looking considerably brighter for the Senators since the back-to-back shutout losses to Toronto and Boston. They'll try to add to their win string when they visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday afternoon.