It's the pre-season but it's still the Montreal Canadiens.
Reason enough for the Ottawa Senators to get fired up for their final two exhibition tests before heading off to Sweden to open the National Hockey League season against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL Premiere series. The Sens and Pens are set to face off at the Globe Arena in Stockholm on Oct. 4 and 5, with both games to be televised nationally by CBC's Hockey Night in Canada
Before then, though, some last-minute decisions remain to be made. Most notably, who'll comprise the 24-man group (including three goaltenders) Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg and his staff will invite to join them on their Scandinavian adventure.
Heading into tonight's matchup with the Canadiens at the Bell Centre in Montreal (7:30 p.m., no TV, Team 1200), 30 players remain on the Senators camp roster. That means six bodies still need to be dropped from the squad, perhaps before the Sens and Habs meet again Saturday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200).
"We have to make decisions in the next 24 hours and get our team down to go to Europe," said Hartsburg. "So it's the last chance for a few guys, for sure."
While Hartsburg said "we'll make some moves at some point tomorrow," he added "that game tomorrow night could be important for some people."
The "bubble guys" know there aren't many more chances to make the kind of impression that will keep them on the roster to start the season.
"Time's running out," said former 67's star Brendan Bell, one of a handful of defencemen still battling to earn a spot on the squad. "There's not many opportunities left. I don't know that you ever want to think of anything as a final audition. It's not like the end of the world if things run out here.
"But yeah, this is a last opportunity to showcase (yourself) with this group of guys and with the kind of players they've got here now (and show) what you can really do."
Forward Brad Isbister, who's also sitting squarely on the bubble, understands the urgency of the situation.
"It's a big game for me tonight," said the veteran NHL forward, who signed with the Senators as a free agent in the off-season. "I'm going to go out and play my game and, hopefully, good things will happen. It's my second exhibition game and a chance to show what you can do out there, so that's what I'm going to do tonight."
For everyone, though, the next two nights represent a last chance to fine-tune their game before the season begins for real in a week's time.
"This is a great test for us," said forward Chris Neil
, who's coming off a two-goal game in Wednesday's 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. "(Montreal) had a great team last year and they played well and they work well together. We've got to be ready to go tonight."Around the boardsAlex Auld
is slated to get a game's worth of work in goal tonight. Then it'll be Martin Gerber's turn to go the full 60 minutes on Saturday ... Hartsburg said Mike Fisher (groin) won't likely to suit up for either game against the Habs. Defenceman Alex Picard (groin) might return tomorrow ... Veterans Chris Phillips
, Shean Donovan, Daniel Alfredsson
, Jason Smith and Nick Foligno
are all being given tonight off ... Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for the Senators' home-opener against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 11, with only 1,500 left for the Phoenix Coyotes' visit to Scotiabank Place on Oct. 17.