The Canadiens and Senators will square off five more times before the season is done.
MONTREAL – Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. It's a warning the Ottawa Senators might want to pay close attention to, as the Canadiens are putting some heat on the reigning Eastern Conference champs.
With 33 games left on the calendar, there’s still a lot of hockey to be played in 2007-08. But in their first post-All-Star break practice on Monday afternoon, the Canadiens had their sights set on the road ahead.
Some solid hockey over the last month has provided the Habs with the second-best point total in the East overall and propelled them within a mere six points of Ottawa, which holds the top spot in the Conference. That’s changed their outlook as the stretch drive gets underway on Tuesday night against the Capitals.
“I think the goal is to finish as high as you can in the standings,” said Christopher Higgins, who handed his teammates points 59 and 60 with his game-winner against the Devils last Thursday. “Before, we were talking about separating ourselves from the pack below but now that we’ve been playing better, it’s about catching who’s in front of us.”
For captain Saku Koivu, that’s exactly the way he wants it.
“Instead of looking behind us, we’re looking at the teams ahead, to see what we can do to catch Ottawa in our division and hopefully grab the first spot. It’s a big challenge for us, but we’d rather look at it that way,” he said.
The Canadiens are no strangers to sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference at this point in the season. It was a similar picture right around this time last year, but then injuries combined with a flu bug took their toll. This year, the team has enjoyed a relatively healthy roster, has only dropped back-to-back contests in regulation once and has only suffered one three-game slide overall.
“I think we’re better prepared for the end of the schedule this year,” noted head coach Guy Carbonneau. “Our goal is still to make the playoffs. But with the way we’re playing now, we’re within reach of Ottawa with a game in hand and we play them five more times. That gives us a new objective.”
While everything has been running smoothly on the ice for the Habs thus far, there has been one slight glitch.
“The obvious one is playing better at home,” admitted Higgins. “If we can put that together, then I think the sky’s the limit for this team.”