OTTAWA – Ten points back of the last Stanley Cup Playoffs berth in the Eastern Conference after a 1-2-1 road trip, the Ottawa Senators are a long shot to make the postseason.
If there’s an opportunity to cut into that deficit, it starts tonight against the Montreal Canadiens as the Senators will play 12 of their next 16 games at home.
“Each game is two points is the focus that we’re going to take,” Senators coach Dave Cameron said. “It is usually a bit of a homer’s league, so that usually comes into play. But to keep this team from getting too far outside itself, we just look at each time is two points and see how we have to play to do that and let the chips fall where they may.”
The Senators are 8-5-4 at Canadian Tire Centre and 9-12-4 on the road. The Senators lost ground in the playoff race as they managed just one win against non-playoff teams on their road trip.
The Senators ended the trip with a 5-3 loss to the Dallas Stars in which they failed to protect a 3-1 lead, giving up four second-period goals to the Stars.
It was the kind of rough stretch, particularly in the second period of games this season, which has haunted the Senators. They have been outscored 47-37 in the second period this season. The 47 goals allowed in the second period are the fifth most in the NHL.
Senators goaltender Craig Anderson, who will start against the Canadiens on Thursday, said maintaining focus is the key to avoid the rough stretches which have led to the Senators undoing.
“I wish there was a simple solution. I think at lot of it is just getting mentally ready for every shift, for every segment of the period, in between TV timeouts you’ve got 90 seconds there to kind of regenerate your mental stability and your mental focus,” he said. “Maybe we’ve got to look at our selves as individuals and figure out what works for you. What works for me doesn’t work for everybody else. As a pro, your job is to figure how to play well and how to play well for 60 minutes.”
The Canadiens ended a two-game losing streak Wednesday with a come-from-behind 3-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The big news for the Canadiens was the power play which scored all three goals in the third period after an 0-for-17 stretch.
The Canadiens were 1-for-26 on the power play their past nine games before Wednesday night’s outburst.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien had compared the Canadiens’ problems on the power play to a trip between Montreal and Quebec City, which are linked by two highways on each side of the St. Lawrence River.
“It’s a matter of reading the play, too,” Therrien said. “It’s the same thing if I’m leaving Montreal going to Quebec City. I’ve got two highways; I’ve got the 20 and the 40 that go to Quebec City. If I hear on the radio there’s a big accident in Drummondville, I’m not going to take the 20, I’m probably going to go and take the 40. Because there’s two different ways to get there. It’s the same thing in hockey, you get different patterns, but you have to read the play and we have to let the players make those reads.”
Therrien was asked Thursday which highway the Canadiens took Wednesday against Columbus.
“Last night we took the right way,” he said with a laugh. “We didn’t get lost. That’s a good sign.”
The Canadiens have won six in a row on the road.
“It seems like the guys on the road, they really pay attention and end up finding ways to win hockey games,” Therrien said.
Despite the struggles with the power play, the Canadiens have won 10 of their past 13 games.
With Montreal playing back-to-back games, Dustin Tokarski is expected to start in goal. It will be his eighth start of the season.
The Canadiens did not skate Thursday morning.
Anderson said he is looking forward to playing at Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday. The Senators are coming off a nine-day road trip and Anderson said he is counting on an energetic atmosphere to give his team a boost for their return home.
"It was a long road trip, for sure, but there should be no excuse for a lack of energy tonight," he said. "The fans are bringing enough of that for us to get up. When you play a rivalry like Sens and Canadiens, it’s one that your heart rate starts beating at the morning skate before the game even starts."
Here are the projected lineups:
Max Pacioretty – Tomas Plekanec – Brendan Gallagher
Brandon Prust – Alex Galchenyuk – PA Parenteau
David Desharnais – Lars Eller– Dale Weise
Jiri Sekac – Manny Malhotra – Michael Bournival
Andrei Markov – P.K. Subban
Nathan Beaulieu – Sergei Gonchar
Alexei Emelin – Tom Gilbert
Scratched: Mike Weaver, Christian Thomas
Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris – Alex Chiasson
Mike Hoffman – Mika Zibanejad - Bobby Ryan
Erik Condra - Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Curtis Lazar
Milan Michalek - David Legwand – Mark Stone
Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Cody Ceci
Patrick Wiercioch - Eric Gryba
Scratched: Colin Greening, Chris Phillips
Injured: Zack Smith (wrist), Chris Neil (knee), Mark Borowiecki (lacerated leg)
Status report: Both Neil and Borowiecki took part in the morning skate. They haven’t been cleared for contact. Cameron said Borowiecki is ahead of schedule as he recovers from a laceration sustained when he caught his leg on an electrical socket during the pre-game soccer warm-up Dec. 29. Neil has missed the past 14 games with a knee injury. … Phillips comes out of the lineup in favor of Weircioch and will have to wait to move closer to the Senators record for games played. Phillips has played 1,175 games. Daniel Alfredsson played 1,178. … Desharnais will play his 300th NHL game, all with the Canadiens.
Who’s hot: Stone and Ryan each have a goal and three assists in the past three games. … MacArthur has two goals and an assist in his past two games. … Pacioretty has six goals and an assist in his past six games. … Markov has three assists in two games.