MONTREAL – Andrei Kostitsyn is showing the Montreal Canadiens what he can do when he skates hard and goes to the net.
The stocky winger scored the tying goal on a rush to the Ottawa net and set up Tomas Plakenec’s game-winner with just under four minutes left in regulation time as the Canadiens downed the Senators 4-3 on Saturday night.
”He’s a big part of our team this year,” Plekanec said of his linemate from Belarus. ”Our line is so much stronger when he plays the way he’s playing now.
”He’s doing what he’s best at—skating, hitting, going to the net. It’s nice to see.”
Brian Gionta and Jeff Halpern also scored as Montreal (3-1-1) posted its second win in as many nights after Friday’s 2-1 victory in Buffalo.
Milan Michalek scored twice and Erik Karlsson had the other for Ottawa (1-3-1), which was coming off a win Thursday over Carolina.
The 25-year-old Kostitsyn slumped to 15 goals in 59 games last season after campaigns of 26 and 23 tallies but has been a standout since the start of training camp.
Coach Jacques Martin had a little grin when asked what has got into the team’s first round pick in the 2003 draft.
”It’s the last year of his contract, isn’t it?” said Martin. ”That’s pretty good motivation.
”There’s no doubt that Andrei is a big part of our team when he uses his strengths and goes to the net. His shot can be intimidating and, with Plekanec, its a good combination.”
Montreal had a 40-19 advantage in shots and a wide edge in play, but they trailed 3-1 in the second period before Halpern banked a shot in off Chris Campoli’s skate at 13:39.
Three minutes later, Plekanec and Kostitsyn worked a give and go on a rush through the Ottawa defence and the latter flipped the puck over goaltender Brian Elliott for his second goal of the season.
Montreal outshot Ottawa 16-2 in the final period, but it took another rush in which Plekanec tapped in Kostitsyn’s rebound to produce the winner.
”We battled hard, but we’ve got to close the game off when we’ve got a two-goal lead,” said Senators defenceman Karlsson. ”But I think we’re on the right track.”
It was a good night for rookie defenceman P.K. Subban and his new partner Alexandre Picard, who both emerged plus-3.
Martin said it helped Subban to be on the third pairing and avoid match-ups against the opposing team’s top two lines. Still, due to power play action he put in a healthy 21:41 of ice time.
Another rookie, Lars Eller, was benched after going minus-2 and was on the ice for only 4:21, but Martin said the main player obtained in the Jaroslav Halak trade this summer was not in the doghouse.
”He’s got great skill, but it’s a learning process,” said Martin. ”It’s not that it was his fault, but he was minus-2. I shortened the bench and he didn’t get as much ice time.”
Michalek was the goat as he missed Daniel Alfredsson’s pass at the blue-line and allowed Gionta to skate in alone and score on Montreal’s first shot 1:06 into the game.
He made up for it at 10:32 when he was at the doorstep to bang in Alfredsson’s rebound.
Ottawa did not get a shot in the middle period until the 10:20 mark, but it went in as Karlsson trailed in on a rush to score on a high blast.
Michalek got his second of the night 53 seconds later as he went through the defence and beat Carey Price with a soft backhand.
Elliot broke a skate and had to be replaced by rookie Robin Lehner to start the third period, but he returned after 4:42 of play. The 19-year-old Lehner, called up this week to replace the injured Pascal Leclaire, stopped all three shots he faced in his first NHL game, including a tough stop on Michael Cammalleri in alone on the left side.
NOTES: Montreal scratched Tom Pyatt and gave left-winger Mathieu Darche his second start of the season … Ottawa was 3-0-0 in Montreal last season … Jason Spezza had two assists and now has 51 points in 41 career games against Montreal … Cammalleri had eight shots on goal. . .The two teams meet again next Saturday in Ottawa.