Senators' black hole

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 3:09 PM ET

MONTREAL -- The honeymoon appears to be over for Cory Clouston.

The rookie Senators coach was 5-1-1 after taking over from the fired Craig Hartsburg, but the club has now lost three straight after yesterday's 5-3 setback to the Canadiens.

The Habs -- riding the emotion sparked by the return of forward Alexei Kovalev, who was given a prodigal son's welcome after sitting out the last two games on a forced sabbatical -- had the Senators in a 4-0 hole 27 minutes into the game.

Kovalev scored a goal and added two assists to energize the Hockey Day in Canada crowd at the Bell Centre.

For the Senators, "it's the same old story. We spot the other team two or three goals after a period and then battle back," said Clouston. "We can't keep shooting ourselves in the foot."

CAMPOLI LENDS ASSISTS

The Senators were lifted by two assists from newcomer Chris Campoli on the blue line and the presence of forward Mike Comrie -- obtained from the Islanders Friday for forward Dean McAmmond and the Sharks' first-round pick.

Senators winger Dany Heatley scored his 28th and 29th goals of the season -- giving him seven goals in his last six games -- and Jarkko Ruutu got his fourth to open Ottawa's scoring after the Senators had fallen into that hole.

Goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who appears to have been handed the Canadiens' top job by the struggling Carey Price, was strong in the net when the Senators finally got their game in gear.

The Senators were credited with 47 shots, their most in a game this season, and directed 78 toward the Montreal net (the Canadiens blocked 19 and another 12 missed the mark). Their previous high was 44 in November in a win over the Capitals. It was just the sixth game this season they topped the 40-shot mark.

"I thought we did some good things. We had a lot of opportunities to score, but we just couldn't solve (Halak)," said Campoli. "They found ways to get goals and got the early lead."

"Halak was unbelievable," added Clouston. "He was their best player."

For the second time in five games, Clouston yanked rookie goaltender Brian Elliott. He didn't have much of a chance on Tomas Plekanec's power-play goal to open the scoring as the sizzling centre (four goals in his last three games), took a cross-ice pass from Kovalev in the circle and lifted a wrist shot into the top of the net just past the two-minute mark.

But Elliott got beat to the stick side three minutes later by Kovalev after a turnover in the Ottawa zone by defenceman Chris Phillips.

MUST MAKE THAT SAVE

That was a moment Clouston said the Senators, mired in another slow start, needed a stop.

Clouston had seen enough when defenceman Mathieu Schneider scored his second goal in three games since his return to the Habs to make it 3-0 three minutes into the second period.

"(Elliott) needs to make that save early, whether we turn the puck over or not," said Clouston. "When Brian makes those saves, it picks the bench up."

The Kovalev goal might have been the key score of the game. It put the Senators in a multi-goal hole again early in a game and energized the crowd, which was eager to welcome back Kovalev.

"The Kovalev goal compounded their momentum seeing what he had gone through," said Clouston.

Veteran Habs defenceman Patrice Brisebois, taking advantage of a second straight power play on which Senators forward Chris Kelly wound up without a stick, made it 4-0 before the Senators started to show some offensive life.

Ruutu scored his fourth of the season at 7:40 after Campoli moved the puck up the ice. Heatley scored two minutes later to shift the momentum and make it look like the Senators, with another goal, could make a game of it.

They had a great chance when Mike Komisarek was sent off for hooking with four minutes to go in the second period, but the power play couldn't get the job done.

Another key moment came at the Senators crease when, in the dying moments of the second period, Ottawa goaltender Alex Auld gave up a big rebound and Montreal's Mathieu Dandenault put it in the open side with 18 seconds left to restore the Habs' three-goal lead.

Ouch.

CHRIS.STEVENSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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