With five victories in their last seven outings, the Senators appear to have put a slow season start in the rearview mirror. Now, instead, they'll try to keep the good times rolling against the Northeast Division rival that provided the biggest obstacle during that early slump.
After vanquishing the Maple Leafs earlier this week in Toronto, this is a team that surely would like to complete a sweep of its biggest rivals in a five-day span. But the Senators know beating the Montreal Canadiens — who won the two previous meetings between the teams this season — at the Bell Centre on Saturday night (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) will be anything but an easy chore.
"It's a good measuring stick for us, for sure," head coach Cory Clouston admitted before the Senators (6-6-1) boarded the bus for Montreal, where the division-leading Canadiens (7-4-1) lie in wait.
The last time they were here, the Senators squandered a 3-1 second-period lead en route to a 4-3 loss on Oct. 16. One week later, Carey Price and the Canadiens strolled into Scotiabank Place and emerged with a 3-0 triumph. Needless to say, reversing that tide on Saturday night would be rather significant, indeed.
"It's huge," said defenceman Matt Carkner
. "We've struggled with them the past few games here (but) I think we're heading in the right direction. We've addressed certain areas of our game and a lot of guys have done a great job of rising to the occasion. I think if we play our game for a full 60 (minutes), we should come out on top."
Clouston is preaching the same message, especially in light of the way their previous two meetings played out.
"We haven't played a full 60 minutes," he said. "In our barn here, we didn't play very well. But we came off a big, emotional win over Buffalo the night before that and we had a couple of guys who weren't very healthy in that second game. We're not making excuses, but it's just reality.
"(In Montreal), we were up 3-1, we started to sit back a bit, they got momentum and we couldn't slow it down. Our goal tomorrow is to go in and play a full 60 minutes."
Mind you, it's not like the Senators haven't tasted recent success at the Bell Centre. Last season, Ottawa posted a 5-1-0 record against the Habs that included a sweep of all three matchups in Montreal.
"We've had success against them in the past," said centre Jason Spezza
. "I think maybe it's just that we didn't execute in the two games we played them (this season). We have to be a little tighter with our game ... if we play the way we played the last few nights, we'll have success."
Spezza agreed this isn't just another Saturday night game.
"They're a big rival for us, we play them a lot and you need to get points against teams in your division," he said. "Playing in Montreal on Saturday night, it kind of ups the ante, too. They're a team that had success in the playoffs last year. They beat us twice (this season).
"You want to make sure you win these games and if you do win these games, you get a lot of confidence out of them, so they're more than just a game against any other team."
Around the boardsFilip Kuba
's return to the lineup is still on hold. The Senators had hopes that the veteran blueliner, who's been sidelined since breaking his right leg on the first day of training camp, would be good to go against the Canadiens. But Clouston said earlier today that won't be happening. "He's got to be 100 per cent confident and right now, we're not there yet," he said ... Forward Milan Michalek
's absence is going to extend into a second week. The Czech winger has been battling tendinitis in his surgically repaired knee but could resume skating as soon as tomorrow. "We hope he'll practise on Monday," said Clouston, adding it's possible Michalek could face the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) but it's more likely to be Thursday, when the Vancouver Canucks visit the capital (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200) ... Forward Zack Smith
has been re-assigned to the Binghamton Senators and was slated to suit up tonight in their American Hockey League matchup with the Hamilton Bulldogs at the Bell Centre. The teams play a return game Nov. 26 at Scotiabank Place.