Antoine Vermette and Mike Fisher beat Cristobal Huet while goalie Ray Emery stoned two Montreal shooters as the Senators won 3-2 to taint Montreal’s NHL home opener on Saturday night.
After the win, which ended a three-game losing streak for the Sens, most of the talk was of Murray’s decision to keep struggling stars Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley out of the shootout and go with Vermette, Dean McAmmond and Fisher instead.
“I’ve watched those guys in practice and those were my choices,” Murray said.
Of his three first-line stars, he added: “They weren’t going to shoot, that’s for sure.”
It turned out to be an inspired choice.
“I had studied up on Alfredsson and Spezza, so I didn’t know what to expect,” said Huet after his second shootout loss in as many starts this season. “But I think they made a good choice. They surprised me.”
Sergei Samsonov scored his first goal as a Canadien with 3:23 left in regulation time to tie the game and force what turned out to be a scoreless overtime. Chris Higgins scored in the first period for Montreal (2-0-2).
The Canadiens ended the game with only four defencemen as Craig Rivet and Mathieu Dandenault left in the third period with what coach Guy Carbonneau said were “lower body” injuries. He said more would be known about the injuries on Sunday.
The Senators (2-3-0) were coming off three losses at home. Their only other win was 4-1 in Toronto in the Maple Leafs home opener on Oct. 4.
Vermette had the first shot in the shootout and scored on a deke for what would become the winning goal. McAmmond was stopped, but Fisher scored on a wrist shot. Emery stopped Montreal’s Higgins and Saku Koivu.
“I wasn’t really surprised,” Vermette said. “Last year I used to go there sometimes and I’ve had success on breakaways.”
If Alfredsson and Spezza were miffed, they didn’t show it after the game. Spezza has two goals this season, Alfredsson has only an empty-netter while Heatley, who had 50 goals last season, has yet to score. As a team, the Senators have scored only nine goals in five games.
“He (Murray) makes the decisions and we go with it,” Alfredsson said. “Obviously, we know we can be better and we’ve got to keep working.”
Added Spezza: “We’re not scoring right now and those guys have done well in shootouts in the past. He wanted to give it a different look. It worked out well. We won the game.”
The Senators outshot the Canadiens 27-25.
Despite the loss, Carbonneau was pleased with his team’s energetic play.
“The good thing about a shootout is you still get a point,” he said. “That’s a positive and we got a big goal by Sergei in the third period.
“I think the shootout is fun. You still want to win them. You can’t take them lightly. But it’s one player against the goalie. Last week in Toronto, we won. This time, we lost.”
Hamel got the opening goal 7:07 into the game when he stripped the puck from Michael Ryder in front of the Montreal net and slid a backhand that sneaked inside the post behind Huet.
Montreal tied it shorthanded at 11:24 when Koivu stole the puck from Spezza at centre ice and sent Higgins in alone on the right side to beat Emery with a wrist shot.
It was Higgins’ third goal of the season and his second shorthanded.
Kelly put Ottawa back in front when he banged in Patrick Eaves’ pass across the crease at 13:49.
Samsonov tied it when checker Chris Neil lost his stick, allowing the Russian winger to circle in from the blue-line and beat Emery between the pads.
The Senators went 0-for-5 on the power play and are now 1-for-30 in five games, while they have surrendered two short-handed goals.
The highlight of the pre-game ceremony for the home opener was a standing ovation for Carbonneau from the sellout crowd of 21,273. Carbonneau, a former Canadiens captain, took over as head coach from GM Bob Gainey this season.
In player introductions, the loudest cheers were for captain Koivu, Huet, Higgins, winger Alex Kovalev and rookie Guillaume Latendresse.
Notes – Alexei Kaigorodov made his NHL debut for Ottawa, taking tough guy Brian McGratton’s spot on the fourth line. He got his first point, an assist on Kelly’s goal. . . . Defenceman Joe Corvo (broken foot) remains sidelined. . . . Mark Streit and Garth Murray were scratched for Montreal.