BROSSARD – There’s nothing like playing three games in a week-and-a-half to help spark a rivalry.
Having played the Sens just 106 times in the past 20 years since the NHL returned to the nation’s capital, the Habs haven’t had enough time to breed the kind of rivalry with Ottawa that they have with Boston and Toronto. Cramming three games in a 10-day span this month is helping speed up the process.
“It’s almost like a playoff series where you see them so often in a short period of time – it builds up that intensity and that rivalry which is a lot of fun,” explained Josh Gorges, who played over 25 minutes in each of last week's games against Ottawa. “When we play these guys we know what we’re up against. We know they’re a good team, they have a lot of offensive players and a lot of talent and we have to compete.
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“I think for both sides you get used to what they’re trying to do and what they’re trying to accomplish in their systems,” he added. “At the same time, they’re watching tape and seeing what we’re trying to do. I’m sure they’re going to make some adjustments and some changes.”
One of the biggest changes the Canadiens can expect to see on Friday night will be between the pipes for the Senators. Regular starter Craig Anderson is slated to return to action for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair a lacerated tendon in his pinky, suffered while cutting chicken at home in February.
“With their goaltender likely returning, it will be paramount to get some pucks on him early and test him coming back into a game situation,” stressed Randy Cunneyworth, whose team has fired 30 shots or more at opposing netminders 30 times this season. “Practice is practice but games are another thing and we want to make sure we test him.”
The Habs may have to get used to scoring on a new goalie on Friday night, but they’re already all-too-familiar with the rest of the Senators’ lineup. They’ll be looking to stop All Stars like Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson who have each amassed four points in the five games between the two teams so far this season. After beating Ottawa in a shootout last Wednesday before losing in overtime on Friday, Cunneyworth is hoping his team will already know all the Sens’ moves before they make them.
“From the standpoint of knowing their personnel and just knowing a lot of their tendencies, absolutely [playing them three times in two weeks helps],” admitted the head coach. “They’re an aggressive team, they forecheck hard and we know with possession of the puck they leave the zone early. They’re able to stretch areas where you have to be on top of them and you can’t get caught.”
Growing up in Lac-la-Biche, AB and spending the past three seasons in Calgary, Rene Bourque is a little more familiar with the Oilers-Flames rivalry than the passion behind Habs-Sens/Leafs/Bruins games. He’s proving to be a quick study when it comes to which teams he’ll have to learn to hate in the Eastern Conference.
“When you play that many games in a short amount of time it definitely gets heated, especially when we played those games back-to-back you could really feel it,” shared Bourque of his rivalry baptism by fire. “It’s a big rivalry. Guys are always ready to play those big games against Boston, Toronto and Ottawa. These ones are easy to get up for.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.