SENATORS (24-15-6) at CANADIENS (16-20-7)
TV: CBC, RDS
LAST 10: Ottawa 7-1-2; Montreal 3-7-0
Season Series: This is the third of six meetings this season between the two Northeast Division rivals. Montreal has won the previous two matchups, both in Ottawa, including a 6-2 win on Dec. 27 that gave Randy Cunneyworth his first win as an NHL coach. The two teams will complete their season series in March by playing three times in 10 days.
Big Story: Two teams separated by just 123 miles are going in drastically different directions as the Eastern Conference playoff race moves into high gear. After missing the playoffs last season, Ottawa is poised to make the post-season with three straight wins and seven victories in its last eight games. Montreal, on the other hand, has struggled under Cunneyworth, going 3-8-0 and dropping into 12th.
Senators: After going 3-0-1 to start 2012, the Senators started a stretch on Jan. 10 in which they would play nine of their next 10 games on the road. They haven't missed a beat yet on this potential make-or-break run that concludes with a season-long six-game road trip to close out January. After Colin Greening's three-assist performance led the Senators to a 5-1 win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Ottawa visited the Rangers to play the league's top-ranked team two nights later.
Against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, Ottawa's primary offensive weapons came to play. Milan Michalek scored his team-leading 23rd goal of the season and leading scorer Jason Spezza provided two markers. But it was goaltender Craig Anderson who truly led the victory, making 13 saves in the first period to pace a 34-save shutout, his first of the season, in a 3-0 victory.
"He's just so steady back there right now," Spezza said of his goaltender. "You can tell he has confidence. When your goalie exudes that kind of confidence, your team exudes that kind of confidence."
Canadiens: After beating Winnipeg and Tampa Bay to start the new year, earning consecutive victories for the first time in almost a month, Montreal appeared as if it might be turning a corner under Cunneyworth. But much of that momentum was lost in a Tuesday-night loss to St. Louis in which 2010 playoff hero Jaroslav Halak needed to make just 19 saves to shut out his former teammates.
From there, the Canadiens fell in Boston 2-1 on Thursday, with Tim Thomas making 33 saves to secure the win. But the bigger story was the mid-game trade that sent Michael Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Rene Bourque. Other players and picks were involved in the deal, but the high-scoring wingers were the marquee pieces in the transaction.
Who's Hot: Spezza has five points in his current three-game point streak, while defenceman Erik Karlsson has eight points in his last five games … For the Canadiens, David Desharnais has six points in his last six games and Erik Cole has seven points in his last seven.
Injury Report: Peter Regin (shoulder) and Jesse Winchester (concussion) are on IR for the Senators … Andrei Markov (knee) and Ryan White (sports hernia surgery) remain on IR for the Habs, while Scott Gomez returns tonight from a groin injury. Captain Brian Gionta is out indefinitely following right bicep surgery after being injured on Tuesday, and Bourque still has to serve the last of a five-game suspension before making his Montreal debut.
Stat Pack: The Canadiens are 6-1-1 in their last eight games against the Senators, and their Dec. 27 meeting in Ottawa resulted in a 6-2 Habs win that snapped a five-game losing skid.
Puck Drop: Senators coach Paul MacLean has already announced that Anderson will get the start in Montreal, which should hardly come as a surprise. He leads the NHL in games played, shots faced, and saves, and is in the midst of a 7-0-1 stretch in which he has allowed only 13 goals.