MONTREAL – Most former Canadiens players returning to Montreal have been welcomed with a chorus of boos.
Alex Kovalev got a standing ovation.
Kovalev burned his former team by assisting on the go-ahead goal and scoring the insurance marker in his return to Montreal as the Ottawa Senators downed the Canadiens 3-1 on Saturday night.
The majority of the sellout Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 rose to its feet following the goal as chants of “Kovy, Kovy” filled the arena, a rare sight for a visiting player in Montreal.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but it doesn’t matter if it was booing or cheering, it was all about recognition,” Kovalev said. “I got that tonight, and I really appreciate the fans that gave me that support all those years.”
Daniel Alfredsson had a goal and an assist while Chris Neil also scored for the division-leading Senators (5-2-0), winners of five of their last six games.
Few picked the Senators to make the playoffs in pre-season predictions, and Alfredsson says that didn’t sit well in the Ottawa dressing room.
“I don’t know if we used it as motivation, but I think we took notice of it,” Alfredsson said. “We felt good about the way we finished last year and we knew we could build on it, keep getting better and go in the right direction. That’s still our goal.”
Free agent acquisition Mike Cammalleri scored his first in a Canadiens uniform for Montreal (2-5-0), who lost their fifth straight. Montreal has scored only nine goals over that span.
As opposed to the cheers given to Kovalev, the Canadiens were loudly booed for long stretches of the third period as they were pinned in their defensive zone for much of the final 20 minutes.
“Fans expect us to win games, so in that sense their reaction is not unexpected,” Cammalleri said. “If I was a fan, I wouldn’t be happy either.”
Kovalev’s return was initially greeted with a loud mix of cheers and boos, but he received another loud ovation when he was named the game’s third star, and he took an extra twirl around the ice to acknowledge the reception.
He said that was to show appreciation for the few hundred fans who held a rally outside the Bell Centre just before the opening of free agency in an attempt to convince Habs GM Bob Gainey to re-sign Kovalev. Gainey made two offers to Kovalev, but ultimately signed Brian Gionta instead when Kovalev took too long to decide.
“It meant a lot,” Kovalev said of the standing ovation, his first as a visiting player. “It was appreciation for what I’ve done for the city, and I really appreciate all the support the fans gave me. I was glad I got a chance to show my appreciation for what they did this summer.”
Pascal Leclaire was extremely solid in net for Ottawa, particularly during a 16-shot barrage in the first when he allowed only Cammalleri’s goal. He made 27 saves and allowed one goal for the third time in six starts this season.
“Early in the game I might have made one or two nice saves, but the more the game went on we raised our game,” Leclaire said. “I didn’t have to do a whole lot in the second half of the game.”
Carey Price allowed two goals on the first four shots he faced, though there was little he could do on either. He finished with 18 saves, including a highlight reel glove stop off Alfredsson in the third.
The Ottawa penalty killing unit was perfect on four chances to run its streak to 17 straight over the past four games.
“We’re getting good goaltending, you can’t have good penalty killing without good goaltending, but we’ve also done a good job of following the game plan,” Sens head coach Cory Clouston said. “We’re willing to block shots, we’re doing a good job of getting our bodies in shooting lanes and maybe frustrating the opposition and making them take shots from the perimeter.”
The Senators took the lead on only their second shot of the game. Kyle Chipchura lost the puck to Nick Foligno behind the Canadiens net and Mike Fisher sent the puck to Neil in the slot. His wrist shot beat Price high to the glove side for Neil’s second of the year at 9:16 of the first.
Ottawa then ran into penalty trouble by taking four straight minors, including two to give Montreal a 5-on-3 power play for 1:55, but the Canadiens were unable to capitalize as the Senators blocked 16 shots in the period.
Cammalleri tied things up for Montreal with only 27 seconds left in the first when his snap shot from the right circle bounced off Leclaire’s shoulder and trickled in behind him.
It was the Canadiens who paraded to the box in the second period with four straight penalties of their own, and the Senators capitalized. With Hal Gill and Josh Gorges in the penalty box, Kovalev got the puck at the right circle and sent a perfect cross-ice pass to Alfredsson, whose one-timer beat Price for his third of the year and a 2-1 Senators lead at 4:44 of the second.
Kovalev’s third of the season came after the Canadiens failed on repeated attempts to clear the zone. The puck eventually found its way to Fisher, who found Kovalev alone in the slot at 11:28 of the third.
Notes: Gregory Stewart was scratched for the Habs, while Sens D Filip Kuba (lower body) and C Peter Regin (upper body) also sat outaThe Canadiens and Canada Post unveiled a new set of stamps commemorating the franchise’s 100th anniversary coming up on Dec. 4. There is one domestic-rate stamp featuring a game-worn Maurice (Rocket) Richard jersey, and there are three $3 stamps using motion-printing technology that show the 500th goals of Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur. This is the first time a sports team has had a Canadian stamp made in its honouraPrime Minister Stephen Harper was in attendance, sitting in the front row right next to the tunnel to the Senators dressing room.