The Montreal Canadiens are trying to tighten up the races in the Northeast Division and the Eastern Conference. They get a chance to draw closer in both on Tuesday night when they host the front-running Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens (28-16-9) are just three points behind the Senators (32-17-4) - the reigning conference champions who will again be without two-thirds of their top line due to injury. Dany Heatley continues to be sidelined with a separated shoulder, while Daniel Alfredsson, who has two goals and four assists in Ottawa's three wins against Montreal this season, will not play due to a hip flexor injury.
Despite missing a combined 57 goals and 67 assists from the duo, the Senators aren't making excuses as they look for just their fourth win in 11 games.
"We've had a comfortable lead for a long time and (now) they're right on our tail," Senators center Mike Fisher told the team's official Web site on Monday. "I think that's going to be a good thing for us, being pushed. We've got a lot of games coming up against Montreal and they're going to be huge games.
"We know they've been playing well. But we've been able to raise our level against good teams, for the most part, this year and we've got to continue to do it if we're going to stay in first."
Martin Gerber, who has stopped 92 of 98 shots in Ottawa's three wins versus Montreal, likely will be back in net after Ray Emery struggled in a 4-2 loss at Toronto on Saturday. Nick Foligno and Chris Neil scored for the Senators, who did not have a power play and were outshot 21-9 in the first two periods while killing off five of six penalties.
"We had a bit of a tough start in the first period, and in the second we were undisciplined, took a lot of penalties and couldn't seem to get much momentum going at all throughout the whole game," Fisher said. "They deserved to win."
Gerber is 7-1-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average in eight lifetime starts versus Montreal.
The Canadiens had a five-game points streak snapped with a 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday. Andrei Markov, Alexei Kovalev and Sergei Kostitsyn all scored power-play goals to stake Montreal to a big lead, but allowed five unanswered goals in being stymied in a bid to draw within one of the Senators.
"It was tough," Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek said. "We battled so hard for the first period. We talked about having a great start, we talked about dictating the level of play and having them adjust to us, and we did exactly that but we're definitely not going to win the game in the first 20 minutes. They got better and better as the game went on."
Kovalev, who leads Montreal with 24 goals, has nine of his 14 power-play goals at home. Tomas Plekanec, second on the team with 47 points, will set a career high with his next one.
Neil and Patrick Eaves scored first-period goals, and Gerber turned aside 36 shots in a 4-2 victory at Montreal on Nov. 19 in the most recent meeting. The teams meet again Saturday at Ottawa.