Habs barely hanging on

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

After seeing them win their seventh game in eight tries, the question that comes to mind is where were these Senators for the first half of the season? For that matter, where were they for the last year and a half or so?

"It's too late for that now," mused Senators centre Jason Spezza, who extended his scoring streak to eight games with a pair of goals in Ottawa's 5-4 win over the downward-spiralling Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place last night.

"It sucks the way the season started. It was miserable around here."

Things have brightened considerably under coach Cory Clouston, now the presumably proud owner of a 13-6-3 record since taking over for Craig Hartsburg behind the bench Feb. 2. With Clouston it's hard to tell.

His facial expression is tight. That's also the way to describe most of the derrieres in La Belle Province after the Canadiens lost for the sixth time in eight games (2-4-2) and fell to 1-2-2 since GM Bob Gainey fired coach Guy Carbonneau and went behind the bench.

The Canadiens, picked by many to be Stanley Cup contenders in their centennial season, are now barely hanging onto a playoff spot. Florida beat Toronto last night to get to 80 points and closed to within a point of the Canadiens and Carolina, who occupy the seventh and eighth spots respectively with 81.

Gainey defied the odds and went with Carey Price in net over Jaroslav Halak. Gainey hooked Price after Jarkko Ruutu made it 4-2 for the Senators early in the second period on Ottawa's 15th shot.

"I felt like it was an opportune time to try and get the momentum of the game changed and re-enter the game," said Gainey.

The Canadiens did get the next goal, a softy through the pads of Senators goaltender Brian Elliott by Guillaume Latendresse, but Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson got that one back when he deflected a Chris Phillips shot.

Tom Kostopoulos deflected a Roman Hamrlik shot past Elliott at 19:18 to make it 5-4.

Ruutu's goal revealed the issues that have been dogging Price for most of this season. Ruutu danced in with a fancy move, dragging the puck up between his legs, before snapping a backhander from a sharp angle over Price's left shoulder and into the roof of the net at 2:28. Price was deep in the net and simply not ready for the shot, shrugging his left shoulder in an unsuccessful attempt at the save.

"There are always what-ifs in life," said Alfredsson when asked about the Sens' turnaround. "We are where we are. We're getting ourselves ready and making ourselves a tough team to play against."

One of the keys lately has been the Senators' special teams play. They scored on their last two power plays in their win over Buffalo Tuesday and on their first two last night to overcome Latendresse's first goal of the night at 2:04. It marked the sixth-straight game the Senators have given up the first goal.

But Nick Foligno, who is playing some fine hockey these days, scored his 15th while parked in front and Spezza got his on a nice move off the right post (a play the Senators have been working on in practice) to put Ottawa in front and they didn't trail again in the game.

Despite giving up the first goal, the Senators dominated the first period. They out hit the Habs 17-7 in the first and crushed them in the faceoff circle 15-9, Spezza going 7-3 with his new, legal sticks.

"I might send Ron Wilson a thank-you note," said Spezza of the Leafs coach, who called for a stick measurement on Spezza the last time the teams met.

The Senators host the New York Islanders tomorrow.


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