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Surging Canadiens host struggling Senators

by Brian Hunter
SENATORS (37-30-5) at CANADIENS (36-29-7)

Last 10: Ottawa 2-7-1; Montreal 7-2-1

Season series:
Sixth and final meeting of the regular season between these Northeast Division rivals. Ottawa has won four of the first five matchups this season, including the previous three in a row. Mike Fisher scored with 1:27 left in overtime to give the Senators a 3-2 win on Jan. 30, the last time they met. He leads the team with three goals in the series, while goalie Pascal Leclaire has won both of his starts. Mike Cammalleri and Benoit Pouliot have three goals apiece to pace the Canadiens.

Big story:
Each team begins Monday with 79 points, but they are headed in opposite directions in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The surging Canadiens had a six-game winning streak end but still picked up a point in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday. Earlier in the day, the fading Senators saw their losing streak extended to five when they were beaten 5-4 by the Stars.

Team Scope:

Maybe a date with Montreal will shake Ottawa from its recent doldrums. The good news for the Senators is their 11-game winning streak prior to the Olympic break gave them enough breathing room where they don't have to worry about dropping out of the top eight just yet. But they hardly look like a team ready to put together a lengthy playoff run. Jason Spezza's hat trick was the lone highlight Saturday in Dallas, a game in which Leclaire got pulled after giving up five goals on just 19 shots.

"Right now I'm pretty frustrated," Spezza said. "This time of year it's all about wins. I'd be happier with nothing (no goals) and winning the game and moving up in the standings instead of losing a game like we did tonight."

Canadiens: Although Montreal couldn't pick up a seventh straight win in Toronto, forward Brian Gionta assured the Canadiens did not leave the Air Canada Centre empty-handed. Gionta scored his second goal of the game on a power play with 6:06 remaining in the third period and Jaroslav Halak held the Leafs off until the shootout, where he was beaten in round three by John Mitchell.

"We just weren't on our game," Gionta said. "We weren't sharp enough. A team like that, they're going to take advantage of that and we were playing catch up the whole game because of that."

Who's hot:
Spezza's three goals Saturday gave the Senators forward 19 for the season. He scored just three in his first 28 games, but has 16 in 22 since. … Gionta has 23 goals in 51 games in his first season with the Canadiens, three off Cammalleri's team-leading total. Halak has posted a 6-0-1 record in his last seven starts, giving up two goals or less in five of them.

Injury report:
Ottawa forward Milan Michalek missed Saturday's game with a leg injury and is day-to-day. … Cammalleri, who hurt his right MCL the last time these teams met, could be activated from injured reserve for Monday's game. Montreal defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron is also nearing his return from a knee injury. Fellow blueliner Paul Mara is expected to undergo shoulder surgery and be out for the season.

Stat pack: Fisher scored the first Senators goal on Saturday, his 22nd of the season to tie Michalek for the team lead. … Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov scored two goals and added eight assists during a seven-game points streak that was snapped in Saturday's defeat.

Puck drop: The return of Cammalleri would create an added frenzy amid the Bell Centre crowd. A sixth straight loss would be a season high for Ottawa.

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