Entering the final night of the 2013 regular season, the Montreal Canadiens anxiously awaited the identity of their playoff opponent. Sitting in second place, the Canadiens final seeding would depend on the only game of that fateful evening, a match contended by the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins. With a Bruin win, the Beantown boys would claim second place in the East and seven more games against their opposition that evening. With a loss, however, the Bruins would drop to fourth place, ceding second to Montreal and playing Toronto instead.
As it played out, Ottawa would earn a 4-2 victory on April 28, 2013, as well as a series against the Habs. For Montreal, it meant a significantly tougher seven game set. While Toronto had managed to beat up on the Habs at times last year, it was the consensus (on EOTP, at the very least) that the percentage-playing Leafs would be preferable to the possession-positive, but injury-ravaged, outfit from Canada's capital. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, their fears unfolded almost exactly as predicted.
While the Leafs bowed out in the first round to the Bruins, Montreal was beaten in five games by Ottawa, undone by key injuries and a brick wall in the Ottawa net. Now, for the first time since that violent series, the Canadiens will take on the Senators in a game that matters.
For both teams, it's a matter of earning the points that will inch them closer to preseason expectations. After managing excellent possession numbers last in spite of seemingly crippling injuries, the Senators are under-performing this season. At 48.3% fenwick close so far, Ottawa is nearly 5% below what they accomplished last season. Considering that they're working with what's essentially a full roster this time around, and that 5% fenwick close can be the difference between a solid playoff contender and a forgettable also-ran, early season performance is a concern at the Ontario-Quebec border.
Of course, Montreal fans have some concerns of their own, as poor injury luck and bizarre deployment of the players who are available has left fans of Les Glorieux feeling as though Montreal has left points on the table. Even though players were absent, the high expectations that the Habs entered the season with have no gone missing. With their injury problems beginning to recede, and Montreal able to play a roster tonight that begins to resemble what they iced on opening night, there is hope that the Canadiens may be able to play up to the lofty standards they established in this season's opening weeks.
The Senators were able to snap a five game losing streak when they beat Columbus on Tuesday, but the Sens may still be suffering from another loss that occurred during the same time period. Craig Anderson was stretchered off the ice during Sunday's overtime loss to Dallas, and while Anderson was back on the ice practicing with a sore neck yesterday, there is still some question as to whether he'll be able to go tonight. If Ottawa is without their brick wall, they'll turn to Robin Lehner to take the reins instead. Lehner has only one career start against the Habs, in which he lost in shootout. In his starts so far this season, Lehner has been strong, with a .943 save percentage and a 2.39 GAA.
In the other crease will be the Canadiens' thoroughbred, Carey Price. Price was excellent against the Blues, as is to be expected from the Habs number one netminder. On the season, CP31 is 6-6-1 with a .933 save percentage and 2.16 GAA. The Anahim Lake, BC, native is also quite experienced against Ottawa, having won 14 of his 23 career starts against the Sens. Having suffered an injury that precluded his participation in last Spring's series, Carey should be motivated to finish the job this evening.
Habs fans will notice on important difference between this year's iteration of the Senators and the last one, as Captain Daniel Alfredsson defected to the Detroit Red Wings in a messy offseason divorce. Replacing Alfredsson is Bobby Ryan, who is thriving in first games as a Senator. Ryan has fifteen points in fifteen games, playing often on a line with Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur. Habs prospect, and current Bulldog, Darren Dietz is still having nightmares about the the move Ryan pulled on him in the preseason, leaving Canadiens fans fearful of what Ryan might do to the likes of Douglas Murray.
For quick analysis of Ryan's quick start as a Sen, and discussion of what Erik Karlsson does with his time when he's not endearing himself to entire provinces in a single bound, click the link to Silver Seven.
More from Eyes On The Prize:
- An open letter to Michel Therrien
- Leblanc and St.Pierre assigned to Hamilton
- An honest review of NHL Gamecenter Live
- Wednesday Habs Links - Desharnais sits, same result
- Retour sur le match Canadiens vs Blues
- Canadiens vs Blues Top Six Minutes - Not Ready For Prime Time Edition
- Highlights of the Habs' shootout loss to the Blues and post-game comments