It's early but it really isn't.
Not when it comes to stating the significance of a matchup between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens, that is. They'll meet six times this season, starting with tonight's game at the Bell Centre in Montreal (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).
Though the Senators (6-6-2) currently occupy 10th spot in the Eastern Conference standings, the fifth-place position held by the Canadiens (8-2-2) is a mere four points away. Meaning showdowns like these are a prime opportunity to make up ground.
"Any time you play division games, it's really important, and Montreal is no different," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
said after the team's pre-game skate earlier today at the Bell Centre. "They've been a really good team the last few years and it's a game we look forward to (playing).
"It's early in the season but it's a four-point game and we would love to win it."
Though it's barely mid-November, Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg said it's never too early to have that mentality when it comes to division games in particular.
"We're starting to get to that point in the season – and obviously, it's still early – but every game in your division and your conference becomes more and more important," he said. "This is the first time we play (Montreal this season) and we've got to make sure our game is ready."
The atmosphere figures to be charged for this one in an arena that Alfredsson calls "one of the best buildings in the world to play in. Their fans are very passionate and really into their team."
"Playing in Montreal, where the media coverage is unbelievable and the fans are right into it," said Senators defenceman Alex Picard. "It just makes for a great game. It's the kind of ambience you want to play in as a hockey player. It's definitely always a good matchup there."Around the boards
Goaltender Alex Auld
(5-2-1), who leads the National Hockey League with a 1.84 goals-against average, makes the start for the Senators tonight. You'll also hear his voice during the TSN telecast. The network asked him to recite the words of In Flanders Fields
, the famous poem written during the First World War by Canadian Lt.-Col John McCrae, as part of a Remembrance Day tribute that will air during tonight's broadcast. Auld was born at CFB Cold Lake in Alberta and his family has a long association with the Canadian forces ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets are available for Thursday's game against the New York Islanders at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200), while only 100 remain for the Nov. 20 rematch between the Sens and Habs in Ottawa.