MONTREAL - The Canadiens kicked off Hockey Day in Canada in style with a resounding 4-1 victory over the first-place Senators Saturday afternoon at the Bell Centre.
With the win, the Canadiens (19-15-6) earned their first victory of 2006 and snapped a four-game losing streak. The Senators (29-9-3) meanwhile have now dropped three of their last four games.
After leading the Canadiens to a 4-3 shootout win over the Senators on Dec. 20 at the Bell Centre, Cristobal Huet once again had Ottawa's number in kicking aside 40-of-41 shots for his second win of the season, with both victories coming against the Northeast Division leaders.
"The team played really well in front of me and getting a couple of early goals was exactly what we needed," said Huet, who was named the game's first star. "Hearing the crowd chant my name was a great feeling, but the guys really made my job easy today by forcing the Senators to settle for a lot of long shots from tough angles. This was a total team effort and I won't let this one game go to my head."
That being said, Claude Julien was not short on praise of Huet or his team's effort.
"I was really impressed with how Huet looked out there today," said Julien. "We did a really good job of limiting Ottawa's scoring chances especially in the slot area, but Cristobal was square to the puck all day. He also kept his cool despite all of the traffic the Senators like to create around the net. Huet really came up big for us today.
"Cristobal worked really hard with [goalie coach Roland Melanson] over the past few months and it's really paying off. You can see much more confident he is out there and that's only going to help us down the road."
The Canadiens didn't waste any time in opening the scoring by cashing in on a rare 4-on-1 break, with Saku Koivu working a perfect give-and-go with Craig Rivet before roofing a backhand past Ray Emery just 1:33 into the game on the Canadiens' first shot. Koivu's 10th of the season also marked the second straight game where the Canadiens captain set the tone early after needing only 11 seconds to open the scoring against the Devils in New Jersey Thursday.
That was only the beginning of what would prove to be a short day's work for Emery, who would go on to surrender four goals on only 11 shots before being replaced by Dominik Hasek at the 15:33 mark of the opening period with the Senators trailing 4-0. Hasek stopped all 13 shots he faced the rest of the way, while Steve Martins scored the lone Ottawa goal.
Radek Bonk, who recently returned to the lineup after sitting out almost half the season with a groin injury, finally scored his first goal as a Montreal Canadien by tipping in a Francis Bouillon shot from the point. The goal was the former Senator's first in 36 regular season games dating back to February 3, 2004, when he notched the lone Ottawa goal in a 2-1 loss to the Devils.
"It's one goal, obviously it's a relief but I hope I don't stop at one," smiled the formally snake-bitten Bonk, who led all Montreal forwards with 18:44 of ice-time. "Sometimes all you need is that first goal to get going and hopefully, they'll start going in for me now."
Bonk's breakout performance was not a complete surprise to his coach.
"Radek made it a point to let me know before the game that he felt better this morning than he has in a long time," said Julien. "It's great to finally see him healthy and hopefully he can build on today's game."
Mathieu Dandenault also scored his first goal as Canadien, but it wasn't exactly how he would've have ever imagined it. After being bowled over in front of the Ottawa goal, Dandenault tumbled over Emery and ended up in the net before being grazed by a Jan Bulis shot.
"To be honest, I never felt it touch me and I didn't know I was credited with the goal until someone handed me the puck! After scoring a goal like that, I wasn't even sure if I really wanted the puck," laughed Dandenault. "Well, coaches always say to go to the net and good things will happen and I guess I just proved it."
Leading the way for a Canadiens blueline that erupted for a combined five points (1-4-5) on the day were Bouillon and Rivet with two points apiece. Bouillon scored the game-winning goal and added an assist for his first multi-point effort of 2005-06, with his last two-point game dating back to a 2-1 home-ice win over the Devils on March 1, 2004. The game-winner was also only the second of Bouillon's career and first since the 1999-2000 season, when he notched the winner in a 2-1 win over the Sabres on January, 14, 2000 in Buffalo.
Rivet also had a big day with a pair of assists for his second two-point game of the season after registering a goal and an assist against Florida Nov. 1 at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens will get a few days to rest up before heading to Colorado to take on the Avalanche on Wednesday before welcoming the San Jose Sharks to the Bell Centre next Saturday.
NOTES: Saturday afternoon's Hockey Day in Canada tilt with the Senators drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 20th consecutive sellout of the season and 43rd straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... The Canadiens were without C Tomas Plekanec (knee) who missed his eighth straight game, while the healthy scratches included D Mike Komisarek, LW Garth Murray and LW Pierre Dagenais who sat out his third straight... D Mark Streit and C Mike Ribeiro made their return to the lineup after sitting out the two previous games... Bulis continued his recent roll by extending his point streak to four games (2-4-6) with his assist on Dandenault's goal... The fifth meeting between these two Northeast Division rivals was a chippy affair which saw the both clubs combine for a total of 81 hits, including a season-high 49 checks being thrown by Montreal... The Senators were without the services of two thirds of their top line with RW Daniel Alfredsson (ribs) missing his fourth game and C Jason Spezza (chest) having now sat out seven of Ottawa's last eight games after suffering the injury in the Senators' 4-3 shootout loss to the Canadiens on Dec. 20 at the Bell Centre... The Senators are now 0-6 when Dany Heatley fails to record a point...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com