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Bring on Saturday night

The Canadiens are squarely focused on a critical showdown with the Ottawa Senators for the Atlantic Division lead

by Matt Cudzinowski @canadiensmtl /

BROSSARD - After falling to the Carolina Hurricanes in less-than-stellar fashion, there was only one thing the Canadiens could do on Friday morning - move on and get right back to work.

Up next for Claude Julien's troops is another all-important tilt against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night at the Bell Centre, and first place in the Atlantic Division will be at stake once again.

Coming into the contest, Guy Boucher's squad finds itself just one point back of the Habs with one game in hand, and they're playing good hockey, too, besting both the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins since being swept by the Canadiens in a home-and-home series last weekend.

Julien's contingent, however, picked up just one out of a possible four points in their two games this week against Detroit and Carolina, respectively, affording the Senators the opportunity to make up some serious ground heading into their final regular-season meeting of the year.

Following Friday's practice session at the Bell Sports Complex, the Canadiens acknowledged the need to get back to the business of playing a far more desperate brand of hockey, particularly with a team coming into their building on a serious high and hungry to take over the division lead.

"We know that we have to play better than we did in the last couple of games if we want to get back to winning hockey games. We're playing a team that since we played them last, they've been playing really well and they've picked up some big points. They're going to be excited coming into our building. We better be ready," said Brendan Gallagher. "The intensity level and the excitement level will be a little bit higher as well, so it adds some intensity to the game."

Video: Brendan Gallagher on Friday's practice session

That's where goal scorers like captain Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov come in, both of whom have struggled to light the lamp as of late. Pacioretty has gone five straight games without a goal, while Radulov's goal-drought stands at eight games right now. The Russian sniper is adamant that stats like that just aren't good enough this time of year with so much on the line.

"It's been hard for us [as linemates] and for myself, but you just have to work hard and put those games behind you. [Saturday] is another game. It's huge for our team. I know the team needs us and we need to regroup and play hard," explained Radulov, whose last goal dates back to February 27 against the New Jersey Devils. "It's not about being pretty anymore. It's just about getting to that area in the slot and maybe getting some dirty goals. Whatever it takes, you just have to battle and work hard."

Video: Radulov on the Canadiens' offensive struggles

With that in mind, Julien ran his players through a "teaching day" of sorts, emphasizing facets of the game that didn't necessarily meet expectations against the Red Wings and Hurricanes alike. He hopes fine-tuning some areas, in particular, will pay serious dividends both offensively as well as defensively with a big-time matchup on the horizon.

"We have our system in place, but we lost our focus on it [during the game against Carolina]. Then, there are one-on-one battles along the boards. Those two things really hurt us. We went over that to make sure that we're all on the same wavelength," said Julien. "We understand that we have to be better. There's a lot at stake in that game. There's no excuse for not being ready to play."

The Canadiens' No. 67 is certainly in agreement there.

"Obviously, the last two games haven't been perfect, but we know the areas we have to clean up and improve on. Hopefully, we can show an even stronger effort than last weekend," said Pacioretty. "We know they're going to. Now, it's up to us to do the same. They're going to be fired up to try to get two points. So are we."

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