Surprising Sens to host Habs

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The Canadiens will try to pull themselves to .500 on Friday when they travel to play the Senators. While the Habs have not played since last Saturday’s win over the Bruins, the Sens have been idle since Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Bruins.

Ottawa has been an exciting team this season, one of the bigger surprises in the NHL, having reeled off a six-game winning streak that ended with the loss to Boston. They’re 7-6-0, currently tied for fifth in the East with 14 points, four points ahead of the Habs.

Part of the excitement is that they score a lot of goals, 42 going into Friday’s game, the third most in the league. But they also give up a lot. Their 50 goals allowed are worst in the NHL.

They’ve also made a habit of pulling off third period comebacks — they lead the NHL with 20 third period goals — and feel they’re never out of a game. Their most dramatic comeback so far was a 5-4 shootout win on the road against the Rangers last Saturday in which they trailed 4-1 midway through the third period. So opponents must play a full 60 minutes against them.

It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Sens, with lots of growing pains for their young roster. But things have looked anything but strained in the nation’s capital. They’re getting unexpected performances from their first-year players.

Up front, rookie left wing Colin Greening has earned a spot on the top line, and his four goals and four assists in October got him a nomination for Rookie of the Month. Another rookie, Stephane Da Costa, has earned the second line centre spot and had a goal and assist against the Bruins on Tuesday, his best outing yet. On the blue line, David Runblad and Jared Cowen are both playing over 16 minutes a night on the second and third pairing respectively.

But the biggest performances have been by some notable veterans, starting with Greening’s linemates: Jason Spezza, whose 15 points tie him for fifth in league scoring, and Milan Michalek, who is finally healthy for the first time as a Senator and not far behind Spezza with 13 points. Spezza has also taken more faceoffs than any player in the NHL, 301, and won the most, 166. So expect to see Number 19 take all the critical draws for Ottawa.

Despite their offensive numbers, however, they are all minus players on the season. Spezza and Michalek are each minus-4, Greening is minus-7.

Veteran defenceman Sergei Gonchar, who proved to be a huge disappointment last year in his first Sens campaign, has bounced back. He has nine assists thus far and is once again effective on the power play, where six of his assists have been registered.

But even more effective has been a young veteran who’s emerging as a star defenceman in the NHL. Twenty-one year old Erik Karlsson, now in his third season, is starting to fulfill his promise as a premiere puck mover. His 13 points are tied for the lead among all blueliners and his 12 assists lead all NHL skaters. Seven of those assists have come with the man advantage, tied for second in the NHL. His 36 shots at opposing goaltenders ranks second in the league among defencemen, so look for him to fire the puck at every opportunity. His one downside is that he’s still learning the defensive end of the game and is small for a top pair guy at 6-foot, 180 pounds.

Karlsson has been paired with Filip Kuba, a bigger body who has never played as sound defensively as he has in his new role on the first tandem. He trails only Karlsson in ice time for Ottawa and leads them in blocked shots. The pair is prone to turnovers, however.

Chris Neil remains a physical force up front. His 39 hits rank fifth in the league.

With all their excellent puck movement. the Senators biggest weapon is their power play. They are clicking at a league-best 28.9 rate and their 13 man advantage goals also lead the NHL. Michalek’s four power play goals are tied for best in the league.

The Sens penalty kill is another story, ranking 27th in the league, at 73.4 percent. They’ve surrendered 17 goals when shorthanded, worst in the NHL.

Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson will miss the game, suffering from a concussion he received last weekend against the Rangers. But former Canadiens goalie Alex Auld (pictured), who was out with an undisclosed injury, is expected to return on Friday to back up starter Craig Anderson.

Anderson’s save percentage is not good, .880. Nor is his goals against average, 3.80. But he’s faced the second most shots in the league thus far and there are obviously some defensive flaws in the team. He remains second among NHL goalies with six victories.

That aside, Paul MacLean — in his first head coaching gig — has done a fine job of handling this mix of youth and veterans, working on correcting their shortcomings, managing the expectations for a rebuilding club that has missed the playoffs three of the past four seasons, and creating a good atmosphere around the dressing room and on the ice, which hasn’t always been the case with the Senators. The players have been showing their appreciation with the results.

Here’s how the Senators could line up on Friday against the Canadiens:

Colin Greening, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek
Nick Foligno, Stephane Da Costa, Bobby Butler
Erik Condra, Zack Smith, Chris Neil
Zenon Konopka, Jesse Winchester, Nikita Filatov

Erik Karlsson, Filip Kuba
David Rundblad, Chris Phillips
Sergei Gonchar, Jared Cowen

Craig Anderson
Alex Auld

17 Comments

  1. Da Hema says:

    Thanks Stu for your regular posts about the Canadiens’ opponents. I find them very helpful.

    Your point about the need for teams to play 60 minutes against Ottawa is sobering. As we all know, this has not been one of the Canadiens’ strengths over the past few years.

  2. Renegade says:

    Can people stop saying the habs need 1 win to get back to .500? Even Price is looking at it this way, which baffles me. An overtime loss is still a loss, and therefore the Habs (4-7) need 3 more consecutive wins to get to .500. When the Habs lost 5 home games in a row, 2 of those were OT losses. They counted as losses then, so they shouldn’t just be ignored now to try and paint a rosier picture.

    • TommyHibbs says:

      .500 means equal number of wins and losses, and has the nice property of equal number of games played and points. .500 means you have 500/1000 -> 50% of available points. If we start considering OT losses as losses, it will break the stat and everything will be ruined forever.

  3. Ian Cobb says:

    Question! Will Martin disturb all the lines bringing Gomez back to the lineup or will he just replace Eller on the 3rd line with him?

    • G-Man says:

      If Gomez plays, then…. (perhaps) Darche sits as Moen is dropped to the 4th and Eller stays with AK and Gomez plays…wait for it…wing.
      There, all fixed.

      _____________________________________________________

      When in doubt, blame PP.

      • habaddict_andy says:

        As long as he is setting up AK or Eller’s goals I’m fine with it.

        ———————————————————————
        Go! Hockey! Go!

  4. solomio says:

    Don’t you guys start getting cocky about playing the Sens. They are ahead of Habs in standings and you don’t win 6 games in a row on luck. Alfredson out is luck for Habs though. Habs’ have won 3 games in a row for the Habs and us that’s big but its not big really. Habs will not cruise against Sens and we’ve got our finders crossed for a victory.
    Hope you guys have been watching the Leafs. Man are they playing like a good hockey team. Very strong support and agressively on the puck. I believe their playing a 2 -1-2. Their forecheck is really good. Defensive exit strategies are working well and the forwards are free wheeling, cohesive units with scorers. Scrivens looked like their best goalie out of the three.
    If they can break their habitual November fold they will be a contender this year.

    “I figure PG has one or 2 moves left to bring the Habs that extra step closer to perhaps being the best in the league.” – Einstein

  5. Marc10 says:

    Hab fans need to show up and carry the team. I think it will be a tough one. The Sens will be ready. On paper though… Ah nevermind!

    Psst! Anyone catch Gui’s goal. Pretty sweet.

    • G-Man says:

      Sorry, Marc, but you can NEVER mention Gui here except when you state how awful he is and always will be. :)

      _____________________________________________________

      When in doubt, blame PP.

  6. sampson12 says:

    Look at that lineup… the sens are awful. Their recent success has to be contributed towards luck. I’ll be at the game tomorrow, and if the sens show any signs of being decent, I’ll throw a fit and y’all will see it on TV. But that wont happen cause Habs are cruisin through that game.

    • harrow15 says:

      Star lineups dont mean diddly squat unless they perform to the betterment of the team. How do you think the Preds make the playoffs every year with their lineup?

      This game is gonna be super tough, we need all four of our lines to be working hard for us to have a real shot at winning.

  7. The_Franchise31 says:

    I hope price doesn’t get the money rinne got. I know we need to keep him but for that much….

  8. OneTimer says:

    the sens don’t suck? no way…

  9. G-Man says:

    Get over it, ffs.

    _____________________________________________________

    When in doubt, blame PP.


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