CANADIENS (26-16-5) at SENATORS (21-18-8)
TV: RDS, TSN
Last 10: Montreal 5-3-2; Ottawa 7-1-2
Season series: This is the third of five games between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. The Senators won the first two and have won six of their past seven against the Canadiens dating back to their first-round series in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Big story: The Senators have won six of their past seven games, with an overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Jan. 8 the only blemish in that stretch. After a 4-6-4 start to the season put Ottawa in a hole, the Senators have gone 10-4-3 since Dec. 9 to climb back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Ottawa was eight points out of the final playoff spot on Dec. 8, but coach Paul MacLean's club has climbed within one point of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
"We're certainly finding our game and playing the way we need to play to be successful," MacLean said after Ottawa's 3-0 win at the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. "And we have the total group playing the way we need to play to be successful in the League."
The Canadiens are still a bit too far ahead to be targeted by the Senators, but an Ottawa win would close the gap between the teams to five points.
Canadiens: The Canadiens have been treading water for weeks, failing to string together consecutive wins since Dec. 21 and 28 when they beat the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning on either side of the Christmas break.
A big reason for the struggle has been a power play that has failed to score in its past 18 attempts dating back to the end of a 6-4 win on the road against the Dallas Stars on Jan.2. The power play has not scored in the five games since and Montreal has gone 2-2-1 in those games with eight goals scored, one coming shorthanded.
Defenseman P.K. Subban, who has no points in the past five games, believes the power play will turn around but that the team also needs to improve its 5-on-5 play if it wants to start winning more regularly.
"If our power play isn't doing the job right now, then maybe we've got to tighten up 5-on-5 and maybe bring some more offense 5-on-5," Subban said after practice Wednesday. "You can't always rely on the power play or penalty kill to win you hockey games. If they can every now and then it helps, but you can't be looking for that every game."
Carey Price will start in goal for Montreal. He has an 0-1-1 record with a 3.48 goals against average and .877 save percentage against Ottawa this season, and since last season's playoffs he is 1-3-1 with a 3.33 goals against average and .889 save percentage in six games against the Senators.
Senators: Ottawa's run of seven games without a regulation loss has come thanks to an offensive outburst, with the Senators failing to score three goals just once in that span. The Senators have allowed one goal in their past two games and ended a 3-0-1 road trip on a defensive high note with the shutout win at Minnesota on Tuesday.
"I think the defensive corps is starting to settle in and work for one another, the forwards are really helping the defense as well, the whole group that's on the ice is working to get pucks out of our zone," MacLean said Tuesday. "We're doing a much better and more efficient job at it, and that, to me has been the biggest difference in our team from the first two months to the last two months, is we're much better in our zone."
After beginning the season with a shutout, the Senators had to wait until Game 39 to post another one, a 5-0 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 23. They didn't need to wait nearly as long for their third one.
The Senators' penalty kill shouldn't help Montreal solve its power-play problems. Ottawa has killed of 24 of the opposition's past 26 power plays.
Who's hot: For the Canadiens, Max Pacioretty has a goal and an assist in his past two games and Price has a .923 save percentage in his past three starts… Senators center Kyle Turris has scored in his past three games and has six goals and three assists in his past 10. Turris' linemate Clarke MacArthur has five goals in his past six games.
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