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Price to return for Canadiens vs. Senators

by Arpon Basu

SENATORS (28-25-12) at CANADIENS (35-25-7)


Last 10: Ottawa 4-4-2; Montreal 5-4-1

Season series: This is the fourth of five games between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators, the second and final in Montreal. The Senators won two of the first three. The Canadiens won the most-recent game between the teams 5-4 in overtime, snapping a streak of five straight Senators wins dating to Game 2 of the first-round series between the teams in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Big story: The Canadiens have been struggling of late, but they should get a boost from the return of goaltender Carey Price, who hasn't played since leading Canada to the gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He's been sidelined with a lower-body injury.

Price's return should help the Canadiens, who've dropped down into the first Eastern Conference wild-card spot in the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It probably won't help Ottawa, which is battling four teams in a race for the second wild-card spot. The Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals are ahead of Ottawa in the standings.

In order to make the playoffs, the Senators will need to start winning more often than once every four games, like they have in their past four (1-2-1).

Team Scope:

Senators: The Senators built a reputation last season as a defensive-minded team that relied on stellar goaltending to stay in games they would often find a way to win in the late stages.

That couldn't be further from the truth this season, and the poor defensive play has been particularly striking of late.

The Senators have gone 2-4-1 in their past seven games and have allowed 29 goals in that span, an average of 4.14 per game. Eight of those goals have been scored against Ottawa's penalty kill, which went a perfect 3-for-3 in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators on Monday that snapped a streak of six straight games in which the Senators allowed at least one power-play goal.

A new combination coach Paul MacLean has been trying up front on the penalty kill has been Bobby Ryan with Mika Zibanejad, two offensive-minded players.

"I think it's two smart players," Zibanejad told reporters Friday. "I don't know if I'd say we're traditional penalty-killers. In a way we're the opposite because we play the power play too, we're trying to anticipate what they're trying to do. It has only been a couple of games here, so we'll see in the long run.

Canadiens: Coach Michel Therrien was visibly excited after the morning skate Saturday to confirm that Price would be back after an eight-game absence.

“He’s had his mindset since Thursday that he wanted to make a comeback," Therrien told the media. "He’s got to think like that. He looked really good yesterday. He looked good again this morning.”

Price's return should help keep pucks out of the net, but the Canadiens have also had trouble scoring. They've managed seven goals in a span of five games in which they came away with one victory (1-4-0).

Therrien shuffled his line combinations at practice Friday in an effort to jump-start the offense and kept the new groupings together Saturday morning.

NHL Trade Deadline acquisition Thomas Vanek was moved onto a line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher was moved to a line with Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk and Daniel Briere was on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta. The hope is that the offense will be spread around a bit because the unit of Pacioretty, Desharnais and Gallagher was the only one producing for some time, making the Canadiens an easy team to defend against.

Vanek, who has spent his career on the left side, could see time as a right wing. He's OK with that.

“It’s fine. Obviously, I’ve played the majority of my career on the left, but any time you get the opportunity to play with two good players. I think you take it and you make the best of it,” noted Vanek, who has one assist in three games since being acquired from the New York Islanders on March 5. “We’ve had a good couple of practices together.”

Who's hot: Senators center Jason Spezza has two goals and six assists in his past five games, and right wing Ales Hemsky has six assists in his past two games. … Desharnais scored Wednesday against Boston to give him four goals and seven assists in his past 11 games, and Pacioretty has seven goals and four assists in the same span.

Injury report: Senators goaltender Craig Anderson (shoulder) is out after a collision knocked him from the game Monday against the Predators. Defenseman Cody Ceci (ear) is questionable after taking a slap shot to the head in the same game. Forward Clarke MacArthur (hand) will return after a two-game absence. … Canadiens forward Michael Bournival (concussion) remains out, but he was cleared for contact Friday. Defenseman Josh Gorges (broken left hand) is out.

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