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Big matchups on the horizon with big points at stake

Three big division games await the Canadiens this week, one against Ottawa and two against Detroit

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

BROSSARD - Three games in four nights against division rivals. That's what awaits the Canadiens in the coming days.

First up, a date with the struggling Ottawa Senators on Wednesday at the Bell Centre, before squaring off against the Detroit Red Wings in a home-and-home series on Thursday in Detroit and Saturday in Montreal. 

The matchup against Ottawa will mark the first meeting between the two teams since Claude Julien's troops handed Guy Boucher's contingent an 8-3 defeat on October 30 at the Canadian Tire Centre.

No doubt the Senators haven't forgotten what transpired one month ago in the nation's capital and they'll try to use it as extra inspiration to finally snap a six-game winless streak.

Ottawa's current skid - coupled with the Habs' two straight wins - has propelled Julien's squad ahead of the Senators by a single point for fifth spot in the Atlantic Division.

Nevertheless, captain Max Pacioretty insists that this isn't the time to be looking at where any of their opponents sit in the standings.

"You don't think about where they are in the standings, but definitely division games, you take pride in playing those. Ottawa is an opponent that we've had a lot of physical games against and there's a lot of emotions when we play them. We know we didn't see their best the last time and we're expecting to see their best," stressed Pacioretty. "There are huge points on the line whenever it's in the division, especially with the hole that we dug ourselves this year, so we've got to show our best."

Video: Max Pacioretty on playing well in division games

That's especially true since the Senators now boast a sniper in their lineup in Matt Duchene who wasn't with the team when the two clubs last met just prior to Halloween. 

Even though the 26-year-old centerman hasn't delivered a serious offensive punch just yet with only one goal in eight games, the Canadiens are well aware that it can happen at any time. 

"They probably have a new identity now with the trade and they're going to be playing to prove themselves. Guys are trying to create chemistry with him, so it'll be a little different of a matchup. It seemed like [Kyle] Turris was always jumping over the boards when we were [on the ice], so it's going to be a little bit different," explained Pacioretty, on the implication of the Senators adding a player of Duchene's calibre to the roster. "Whenever you don't play good D against this team, you end up working extra hard and that's what we're expecting."

Following Tuesday's on-ice session, Julien confirmed that Carey Price would make his third consecutive start in between the pipes on Wednesday night.

Video: Claude Julien's press conference

The veteran bench boss also indicated that while Shea Weber's recovery from a lower-body injury continues to progress, he hasn't yet received the green light from team doctors to return to active duty. Weber has missed the last four games.

For his part, David Schlemko's playing status is still to be determined on the back end. 

"I think I still have to make some decisions there," said Julien, when asked if Schlemko would possibly make his Habs debut against the Senators. "Obviously, somebody's going to have to come out if he comes in, so it's certainly not an easy decision at this point."

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