For the second time in four nights, the Montreal Canadiens find themselves facing a four point game. Unfortunately, with their season winding down, it's not the type of four point game they would have hoped to be involved in.
This time last year, the Habs and Ottawa Senators were playing meaningful hockey games, working to cement their playoff position en route to a first round battle. Now, they find themselves fighting for draft position instead.
Both teams have had injuries, bad luck, and poor decision-making contribute to their fate this year. But with that fate all but sealed, they should have little choice but to embrace their rivalry again tonight.
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Tale of the Tape
|Score-Adjusted Corsi %*|
|5v5 Goal Ratio*|
* Senators' stats before Friday's game against Buffalo.
Know Your Enemy
The Ottawa Senators are mostly as we left them. Erik Karlsson remains the Norris front-runner, and the backbone of his team. Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, and Bobby Ryan remain the key offensive elements. Craig Anderson, meanwhile, continues to do yeoman's work, putting up average numbers behind what is often a below average group in front of him.
There have been some changes, however. While the Canadiens stood pat and watched their season slip away, the Senators shook things up, somewhat. Most notably, they traded for Dion Phaneuf, taking on the former Leafs captain and his colossal contract in a blockbuster mid-season swap. Phaneuf's impact has been positive, as his presence has allowed the Senators to rearrange their defence corps.
Erik Karlsson and Patrick Wiercioch find themselves together, forming Ottawa's most effective pairing of the season in terms of possesion. Phaneuf skates with Cody Ceci, stabilizing a second pair that had been underwhelming earlier in the season. And finally, Phaneuf's acquisition corresponded with the departure of Jared Cowen, ridding the Senators of a player who had been an anchor. So instead of the Cowen-Mark Borowiecki third pairing we had come to know and love, we'll likely see the underrated Mike Kostka and up-and-comer Chris Wideman instead.
Unfortunately for Kanata's hockey fans, the forward corps still leaves something to be desired. The group is pock-marked by players playing above their ideal role, and perhaps none more so that Scott Gomez. The former Hab is centring the Sens' third line of late, most recently with Bobby Ryan and Ryan Dzingel. Gomez has been caved-in on possession despite offensive deployment, and hasn't generated much in the way of even-strength offence in his short time in the nation's capital.
Despite his likeable demeanour, his old teammates surely won't wish to cut him any slack this evening. Of course, given Montreal's luck this season, the Alaskan should probably be expected to get at least two primary assists while advancing his Selke Trophy candidacy instead.
Last Time Out
The Canadiens weren't willing to go easy on any of the Senators last time out, tying the highest shot total for a period in team history in the first frame against the Senators on December 12. The Habs were absolutely dominant, ringing up 27 shots on two goals while coming close on several other occasions.
Craig Anderson kept the score close for awhile, but it was clear that he and his teammates were beyond frustrated. An Erik Karlsson penalty, borne of out that frustration, gave Montreal even more chances.
The Habs wouldn't capitalize immediately, but Anderson couldn't hold them off forever. Tomas Plekanec set-up a wide open Pacioretty with the period winding down, giving the Habs a second goal to show for their remarkable effort to that point. Then, with the period about to expire, Dale Weise got in alone, coming just short of giving his team a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes.
The Tricolore would not relent. In the second period, Jeff Petry was the benefactor and ultimate beneficiary of some skilled passing, lacing a wrister past Anderson for a three-goal advantage after starting the play with some deft defensive work. Max Pacioretty, though ultimately denied by a replay review, appeared to make it 4-0 shortly thereafter, spelling the end of the night for Anderson.
The Senators woke up a little from there, but it was far too late. The Canadiens were rewarded for their dominant effort, and were able to offer their fans a brief reprieve from an abysmal December.
Sadly, that reprieve was only temporary, as the Habs' season capsized following months of uninspired play. The Senators find themselves in the same boat, unable to make the playoff run they perhaps were envisioning when they agreed to acquire a player like Phaneuf.
Both teams know where they'll be when the middle of April hits in a month's time, and while each organization surely dreams of that outside shot at the league's next superstar, they can do little to improve their chances substantially. With no extrinsic motivations to complicate the game tonight, they'll have to focus on owning the next chapter of this Atlantic Division rivalry instead.