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In the division

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

OTTAWA – The Canadiens are looking to take advantage of a few four-point games this week.

In Ottawa for the first of three games against northeast division rivals this week, the Habs have a chance to pad their lead in the Eastern Conference standings. While every game in the NHL is worth the same number of points, as the race for the conference lead heats up, the Canadiens know what’s at stake in each of the 11 games they have left against divisional opponents.

“This is an important stretch for us, there’s no denying that,” admitted Michel Therrien, who will face the Sens, Leafs and Bruins over the next few days. “This week we have three intra-division games. There are four teams in our division doing really well right now and we’re facing three of them this week. Tonight’s game is important for us to get this stretch off on the right foot.”

Galchenyuk scores

Despite owning a conference-best 12-4-2 record this year, all four Canadiens losses have come at the hands of divisional rivals. About to face the team with the best home record in the East on Scotiabank Place ice, the Habs won’t be in for an easy night in the nation’s capital.

“The Senators are playing good hockey – inspired hockey – despite losing some big guys to injuries,” confirmed Therrien. “They have a lot of depth, good, young players, they have a good system and they’ve continued winning despite losing some key individuals.”

Even without the services of reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson (Achilles), 2011-12 team scoring leader Jason Spezza (back) and current NHL goals-against and save percentage leader, Craig Anderson (ankle), the Senators are still entering Monday’s game riding a four-game win streak.

“Those are obviously key guys they’re missing,” mentioned Brandon Prust, who is second on the team with a plus-8 differential so far this year. “You have to take advantage of it when you’re facing them but [injuries] happen throughout the year, especially in the shortened season. They’re playing well right now and they have guys stepping up for the ones who are hurt.”

While neither team has a player in the Top 60 in league scoring, the Sens and Habs both have balanced offense, a solid system and superb goaltending to thank for their current success.

“You can always count on Boston to be up there in the standings and Toronto was doing well in the first half of the season last year, so it’s not that surprising,” explained Lars Eller, who had a two-point night on Saturday against the Rangers. “But in Ottawa with the injuries they’ve had, the way they’ve played, not just this year but last year, too, has been impressive and a little surprising. They’re really getting the best out of every player and maximizing the potential they have in the lineup.

“They certainly have depth but they also have a lot of young players who are hungry and looking to make the most of their opportunities,” he added. “They’re getting the best out of every player in their lineup it seems. They have a really good system and they’re sticking to it. On top of that, Anderson has been pretty outstanding, too.”

With so many different faces in the lineup than the last time the Canadiens faced the Senators, Eller isn’t anticipating a change in the team’s game plan heading into Monday night.

“We don’t really focus too much on them; it’s more about what we have to do,” he stressed. “If we play to our strengths, hopefully they’ll have to adjust to us.”

Shauna Denis is a writer for

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