Senators pare roster ahead of 3-1 loss to Canadiens

For the Ottawa Senators, it was about a little bit of rust, a lot of rest and Daniel Briere’s magic touch in Thursday’s 3-1 exhibition loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

Senators pare roster ahead of 3-1 loss to Canadiens
Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson, #41, loses sight of the puck as Montreal Canadiens Alex Galchenyuks shot gets past him and team-mates Jared Cowan, #2, and Michael Sdao during preseason National Hockey League game in Montreal Thursday September 26, 2013. (John Mahoney/THE GAZETTE)

MONTREAL — For the Ottawa Senators, it was about a little bit of rust, a lot of rest and Daniel Briere’s magic touch in Thursday’s 3-1 exhibition loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

In the small picture of the Senators’ defeat, goaltender Craig Anderson — playing his first full game of the exhibition schedule — would probably like another crack at Tomas Plekanec’s go-ahead goal from the faceoff circle late in the second period.

It was a big-league shot, to be sure, a blast that beat Anderson high to the short side. Yet considering it came from the board-side of the faceoff dot, it was an angle that Anderson would typically cut off.

Anderson, however, had no chance on Max Pacioretty’s third period goal. Mark Stone failed to cover Pacioretty as he drove to the net, took a behind the goal-line pass from Canadiens newcomer Daniel Briere, and went high on Anderson. Briere was in a similar position to set up Alex Galchenyuk for the Canadiens’ first goal late in the first period.

The Canadiens were the better team in the third period, but the fact the Senators carried the play for large portions of the opening two periods, despite keeping so many star veteran players at home, is a compliment to the youngsters who were on the ice.

Their emergence has already forced the Senators to make moves while trying to get down to a 23-man roster for the opening of the regular season next week.

Unable to work out a trade, the Senators have placed centre Jim O’Brien on waivers, hoping that a team in desperate need of a centre will pick up his $637,000 salary. Binghamton-bound goaltender Nathan Lawson, winger Corey Cowick and defenceman Tyler Eckford were also placed on waivers, but it’s not expected they’ll be scooped up.

The O’Brien news is not a surprise. O’Brien, who was in the Senators lineup Thursday, only needed to look around him at the forwards to understand why the team can afford to let him go.

Cory Conacher, who opened the scoring here Thursday, appears to have locked up a spot. Stone and Mike Hoffman are knocking on the door to play now. Matt Puempel and Buddy Robinson are on the radar. Curtis Lazar, who is expected to be sent back to junior in the next few days, will get a shot to make the Senators next season.

Meanwhile, back home in Ottawa, centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau was no doubt feeling a little more comfortable with his status following the move with O’Brien. Stephane Da Costa was getting a night off after showcasing his offensive skills on Tuesday against Toronto and Wednesday against Montreal, while Shane Prince and Andre Petersson will likely begin the season as top scoring threats with Binghamton.

If we can take anything from the performance of the relatively inexperienced Senators lineup Thursday against the veteran-laden Canadiens, it’s that the Senators have some depth they can count on in case of injuries.

Before the game, Senators coach Paul MacLean said “we expect to be competitive” and that the organization was “looking forward to our players going there and responding to” the challenge of playing a Montreal roster which will closely resemble the opening day team.

They put up a decent fight, outshooting the Canadiens 25-18 through two periods.

The skaters to start the game told part of the story. The Senators crew of Jared Cowen, Chris Wideman, Mike Hoffman, Conacher and Mika Zibanejad have a combined 192 games of regular season NHL experience. The Canadiens’ group of Tomas Plekanec, Rene Bourque, Brian Gionta, Raphael Diaz and Andrei Markov have played a combined 2,556 games.

Considering all that, it was surprising the Senators jumped out to the early lead, when Conacher pounced on a loose puck outside the crease and put it past Canadiens goaltender Carey Price. Conacher also scored against Montreal in Wednesday’s 5-2 win at the Canadian Tire Centre.

Alex Galchenyuk tied the game with 2:18 left in the first. Plekanec beat Anderson with 1:54 left in the second to give the Canadiens the lead they never lost.

Beforehand, Anderson says he was happy to finally see a full game after two weeks of seeing practice pucks.

“You want to play, you want to get out there and kind of get into the playing situations where it’s more game-like, and a lot more situations where you have to stay mentally focused and you’re not so worried about third or fourth or fifth shots in a row in practice,” he said. “You can’t just go out there and go through the motions. You’ve got to work on your game. That’s the biggest thing in the pre-season.”

Other than the Plekanec shot, he was solid.

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