Senators remain wary of cellar-dwelling Canadiens
Habs are playoff longshots, but Ottawa hasn't forgotten it was there just a year ago
Needless to say, the Senators need no such reminder about the potential pitfalls that might await them tonight, when they face off against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre in Montreal (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). While Ottawa is poised to return to the post-season after a season's absence, the Habs are mired in the Eastern Conference basement and almost certain to miss the playoff party.
But that being said, the Canadiens are rolling over for no one as they play out the final four weeks of the 2011-12 schedule. Just ask the high-flying Vancouver Canucks, who dropped a 4-1 decision to Montreal on home ice over the weekend. It's the same kind of scenario the Senators found themselves in at this point a year ago, when their own post-season hopes had long been extinguished.
"They're a dangerous team to play," centre Jason Spezza said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today at the Bell Centre. "We were that team last year, where you're playing for a lot of pride. You're showing people that you're disappointed with the season you've had. I've watched them a couple of times on TV (recently) and it looks like they're skating real well, the intensity's up and for the most part, they're playing a little bit looser than they normally play.
"So it becomes a tough team to play against. We've talked about it already and before the game, I'm sure we'll talk about it even more, how we have to stay focused, stick to our game plan and let the game come to us."
Added captain Daniel Alfredsson: "They're playing pretty good, so they want to continue that and show that what happened earlier in the year is not the team they (really) are. For us, it's just a matter of going out there and setting the intensity. We have more to play for and that should show for us in the game."
Indeed, with a win tonight, the Senators (36-25-9) would gain a share of top spot in the Northeast Division with the Boston Bruins, though the latter would still own two games in hand. Still, it's a thought that likely seemed unfathomable at the season's outset, when the Bruins were beginning the defence of their Stanley Cup crown and Ottawa was predicted by many to reside at or near the bottom of the conference.
"Right from the get go, the coach (Paul MacLean) came in and said 'I don't expect you guys to win the Stanley Cup the first game, but I want you to get better every game,'" said veteran Senators forward Chris Neil. "For the most part, we've done that. We've gotten better as a group and we've been able to put a string of wins together to give ourselves a chance to make the playoffs. That was our goal right from the beginning.
"We've surprised a lot of teams and we're in playoff contention. Now we've got to keep climbing."
MacLean and the Senators know the kind of opportunity that awaits them now.
"You have to know where you are in the standings and what (each) game means, not only to you, but to the other teams that are around you at this time of year," said MacLean. "We understand where we are and we've got to catch (the Bruins) in order to get by them."
But the greater concern, Alfredsson said, is rounding into top form when the puck drops to start the post-season.
"We would love to climb (the standings), but the way we play is more important," he said. "We just want to continue to give ourselves a chance to win every night ... We're going to do everything we can to finish on a good note."
Around the boards
Keeping in line with the throwback theme of this trip, the Senators will sport their 'O' styled heritage jerseys for tonight's game, with the Canadiens wearing the traditional road whites ... No changes to the Ottawa lineup tonight, meaning forwards Zenon Konopka and Bobby Butler, along with defenceman Matt Carkner, will be the healthy scratches ... Ben Bishop (2-0-1, 2.27 GAA) makes his fourth straight start in goal ... The teams last met Jan. 14 at the Bell Centre, with Senators prevailing 3-2 after a shootout. That result gave Ottawa a 51-50-5-3 edge in the all-time series ... The Senators have earned 41 points on the road to date this season, one more than they've collected at Scotiabank Place ... The Sens and Habs meet again Friday in Ottawa (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).