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Habs fall to Senators in home opener

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
Sellout crowd welcomes Canadiens back to the Bell Centre

With the "new NHL" limiting a defenseman's ability to protect the goaltender, Jose Theodore and head coach Claude Julien hope for some change before it's too late.

MONTREAL - After spoiling a couple of home-openers so far this season, the Canadiens got a taste of their own medicine in a 4-2 to loss to the still-unbeaten Senators in their Bell Centre debut on Tuesday night.

Looking to start 4-0 for only the third time in franchise history, the Canadiens came up just short against Ottawa, the Eastern Conference's only remaining undefeated team. With the loss, Montreal is now tied with Buffalo with a 3-1 mark right behind the Northeast division leading Senators at 4-0.

Faced with more traffic in front of his net than he has seen so far in this young 2005-06 campaign, Jose Theodore still managed to turn away 28-of-32 Senators shots on the night. Clearly frustrated over his crease in the new NHL resembling the Decarie expressway during rush hour, Theodore did a little venting after Tuesday night's loss.

"It's really tough because there's just so much traffic in front of the net now," said Theodore. "There were a few times when [Ottawa] had guys in the crease and the referees didn't call it. I heard a few warnings after the whistle, but if that's not going to be enough, the refs are going to have to be stricter about guys crashing the net."

The Senators game-winning goal by Antoine Vermette is the one that most upset the Canadiens' goalie.

"I know I had someone hit me on that play," said Theodore. "Someone knocked me off balance that much I can tell you.  I guess I'll see the replay later but I think as a goalie you've got to expect that when an opponent skates through the crease, the referee has to spot it and least stop the play or call a penalty for interference."

Claude Julien doesn't blame his star goalie nor his defensemen for scratching their heads as the league tries to adapt to the new rulebook especially regarding the crackdown on obstruction.

"Everyone is still adjusting right now, whether it's the coaches, the players or the goalies," said Julien. "You've taken away one of a defenseman's biggest assets which is their ability to clear the front of the net and protect their goalie. The defense can't play tough in front of their net and the goalies are stuck dealing with the result of that. At some point the league has to do more to protect the goalies before someone ends up getting hurt."

Overconfident Canadiens fans who strolled into the Bell Centre thinking that with Senators' goalie Dominik Hasek getting a breather on Tuesday that the Canadiens were in for an easy night, weren't paying close enough attention during the preseason. Back-up Ray Emery, who combined with Hasek on a 3-0 shutout of Montreal in last Sunday's preseason finale at the Bell Centre, was at it again as he stopped 27-of-29 shots on the night.

Scoring goals for the Canadiens were Saku Koivu, who notched his first goal of the season on a nice set-up from Alex Kovalev, and Steve Begin, who potted his second goal in as many games on a beautiful 2-on-1 with Tomas Plekanec to put the Canadiens up 2-1 almost halfway through the second period. Begin's goal was Montreal's first short-handed goal of 2005-06.

That lead was short-lived as Senators' captain Daniel Alfredsson then responded with a short-handed marker of his own with just over a minute left in the second frame on a play that did not go unnoticed by Julien.

"That goal really seemed to knock the wind out of us and you saw that in the third period," said Julien. "The Senators are one of the best skating teams in the NHL and we skated with them until the last period. We came out flat and they just took over from that point on. For a team that also played last night, they still had their legs tonight. Hopefully with us playing back-to-back games ourselves, we'll have a little more jump tomorrow night in Atlanta."

The Canadiens headed straight to the airport to catch a flight to Atlanta to take on the Thrashers and newly-signed Ilya Kovalchuk, who will make his much-anticipated season debut tomorrow night.

NOTES: Though it had been 586 days since the Canadiens last regular season home game, fans picked up right where they left off with a 19th consecutive Bell Centre sellout crowd of 21,273... Montreal was 0-for-3 on the power-play while the Senators went 1-for-8... The game was a hard-hitting affair with the Canadiens throwing 28 hits after totaling only 40 in their first three games combined... In only his second career NHL game, Raitis Ivanans dropped his gloves for the first time as he took on the tallest player in the history of the NHL in 6-foot-9, Zdeno Chara but Ivanans then left the game with a left-eye contusion and is not expected to make the trip to Atlanta... Claude Julien came back with the identical lineup that got the job done in Montreal's 5-4 win in Toronto on Saturday night with: Alexander Perezhogin-Koivu-Kovalev, Michael Ryder-Mike Ribeiro-Chris Higgins, Jan Bulis-Radek Bonk-Niklas Sundstrom and Ivanans-Begin-Plekanec. As for the blueline: Andrei Markov-Craig Rivet, Francis Bouillon-Mathieu Dandenault and Sheldon Souray-Mark Streit... Watching from the pressbox for second staright game were D Mike Komisarek, LW Pierre Dagenais and RW Richard Zednik who continues to nurse an injured groin... Komisarek, Dagenais, Zednik and Cristobal Huet greeted fans at the main entrance of the Bell Centre and signed autographs along with former Canadiens Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Rejean Houle and GM Bob Gainey as well as team owner George Gillett, assistant to the president Foster Gillett and team president Pierre Boivin... Also scoring goals for Ottawa were Zdeno Chara and Alfredsson, whose second of the night was the insurance marker for the Senators.

Manny Almela is a writer for

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