So often this season, the Canadiens catch opponents who are playing their best hockey. The Senators, who come to town Saturday, are another — and the Rangers are right on their heels Sunday.
The Sens beat the Rangers on Wednesday, 3-0, something of a statement game for Ottawa, which has unexpectedly climbed the Eastern Conference standings. Riding a three-game win streak and with just one regulation loss in their last 13 games (10-1-2) — that one loss was to the Habs on Dec. 27 — Ottawa is only three points behind the Bruins for the division lead and four behind New York for the conference lead. They are 15 points ahead of Montreal.
Who woulda thunk it?
Goalie Craig Anderson got his first shutout of the season against the Rangers, making 34 saves — 13 in the first period. He’s been very solid in the last month, going 10-2-2 since Dec. 13, playing all but one of the Sens games in that span. He’s raised his save percentage by 19 points to .906 and lowered his goals against average from 3.36 to 2.99 in that time. He hasn’t lost in regulation in his last eight games (7-0-1) and he’s only given up 13 goals in those eight. Four of those goals came in the 22 minutes he played against the Canadiens last month, his only bad outing.
Anderson is right behind Carey Price for more minutes played by a goalie in the league. He’s seen more shots than any other goalie, 1163, and made the most saves, 1073.
His defence corps has done an excellent job allowing him to see shots and cleaning up his sometimes dangerous rebounds.
The Sens offence, meanwhile, has averaged 3.6 goals a game in this hot 13-game stretch, and their top two forwards, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek have helped lead the way. Spezza has 23 points (9g, 14a) in 20 games since Dec. 3. He scored twice against the Rangers, his 17th and 18th of the season.
Michalek returned from a five-game concussion absence against the Habs in December and took a while to get going, not scoring in five games, his longest dry spell of the season. Now he has a four game point streak (4g, 1a) going. He got his team-best 23rd of the season against New York.
That goal was set up by defenceman Erik Karlsson, who set up Spezza’s second goal shortly afterward. Karlsson’s 37 assists rank second in the league, and his 43 points lead all NHL blueliners. His partner, veteran Filip Kuba, has been a reliable defender for the Sens this year. helping cover up for the 21-year-old Karlsson.
Speedy and physical rookie Kyle Greening, who’s skating on the top line with Spezza and Michalek, has six points in his last five games.
Second line centre Kyle Turris, who is playing with Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Condra, has probably only had one poor game in the month he’s been with Ottawa — the game against the Habs (it’s the only game in which he’s been a minus). He has eight points in 13 games since arriving in a trade from the Coyotes.
The Sens continue to be one of the league’s more physical teams and Chris Neil leads them with 137 hits (and he missed nine games), followed by Nick Foligno, defenceman Jared Cowan and Greening.
It’s probable that no team has played more exciting hockey late in games than Ottawa this season. The Sens remain the best third period team in the league, having scored 64 of their 139 goals in the final 20. They’ve won six games in which they trailed going into the third period, best mark in the league for comebacks. Their four overtime wins is tied for second best, one behind league leading Washington. They’ve also won eight games in the shootout, third best behind New Jersey (11) and Colorado (10).
The power play remains mid-pack 18.2 percent (15th) but the penalty kill still has some problems, 24th in the league at 80.3.
Here’s how the Sens should line up Saturday night:
Colin Greening, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek
Erik Condra, Kyle Turris, Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno, Zack Smith, Chris Neil
Kaspars Daugavins, Zenon Konopka, Bobby Butler
Filip Kuba, Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen, Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips, Brian Lee