CANADIENS (19-18-3) at SENATORS (19-15-4)
Montreal 5-4-1; Ottawa 5-5-0
This is the third of six games between Montreal and Ottawa. The Senators won the first match-up, 3-1, on Oct. 17, when Alex Kovalev scored against his former team in his return to Montreal. The Canadiens rebounded with a 4-1 victory on Dec. 8 in Ottawa.
Boxing Day on Saturday was good to both the Canadiens and the Senators, each of whom went beyond regulation to win. Ottawa sits a point ahead of the Habs in the Northeast Division, and as Montreal travels the two hours over to Ottawa they are poised to grab their first five-game win streak since Oct. 2008 and their first five-game road win streak since 1998.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak backstopped Montreal to a 3-2 overtime victory over Toronto on Saturday. The Slovakian goaltender made 47 saves before Andrei Kostitsyn
ringed a shot pass Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson to win it. While Scott Gomez
and the red-hot Tomas Plekanec
got the Canadiens on the board early in the first period, Montreal only managed five shots in the second and eight in the third while allowing the Leafs to force the extra period. During Montreal's current four-game win streak it has been outshot 186-99 by its opponents.
"I think we stopped skating," Plekanec said. "We didn't skate at all, we were just watching. We've got to be better. It's great we got two points, we found a way to win in the overtime, but we can't be satisfied with how we played in the second and third period."
After having been trumped by the Penguins in an 8-2 loss before the Christmas break, the Senators rebounded in Buffalo with a 3-2 shootout win on Saturday. Ottawa came out with all guns firing in the first period, outshooting the Sabres 19-1. With Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza out for some time with injuries, Ryan Shannon and Chris Neil stepped up to the plate and provided second-period goals. Shannon's was his first of the season. Having just been snubbed by the Russian Olympic selection committee, Kovalev scored a beauty in the shootout for the win. The right wing also picked up an assist on Shannon's tally.
"We came out with a lot of energy," said Mike Fisher, who also scored in the shootout. "We pressed their defensemen, and they didn't have much time. They turned the puck over and we capitalized on that. If it wasn't for (Sabres goalie Ryan) Miller we'd have had a few in the first."
Halak has allowed just six goals in winning four straight for Montreal. Plekanec has had 10 points in his last four games, Kostitsyn is riding a five-game points streak, and defenseman Andrei Markov
has had at least a point in his last four games since returning from injury.
For the Canadiens, Brian Gionta
(broken foot) skated on the second line in Sunday's practice with Gomez and Benoit Pouliot
and could return to face the Senators on Monday. Defensemen Roman Hamrlik
(knee) and Paul Mara (left hand) also participated in practice. Hamrlik could make his return against the Sens, but Mara's hand is still quite swollen and he is unlikely to play.
For the Senators, Alfredsson is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a separated left shoulder, while Spezza (knee) is unlikely to return until after the Olympic Games. Left wing Nick Foligno (torn right knee meniscus) was expected to resume skating on Sunday following arthroscopic surgery.
In the Canadiens' last four victories, Halak has faced an average of 46.5 shots on goal, making 180 saves on a total of 186 for a .968 save percentage. His goals-against average during that stretch is 1.48.
"It just shows the focus he's had," Gomez said of Halak. "What can you say? He's in a zone. It's almost like you're scared not to give him that many shots because we don't know what will happen."