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- January hasn't been a kind month for Lars Eller. He has just 12 points in 44 games, his lowest PPG average of any month.
Riding a 4 game winning streak, the Canadiens are in Ottawa tonight to face the Senators in a battle for the top spot in the division. The Habs hope to avenge their home opening loss to the Senators, a 4-2 setback on October 11. It's no doubt that many fans remember that game at least for the gigantic fight between towering defenseman Zdeno Chara and Habs enforcer Raitis Ivanans. Unfortunately, Raitis was the recipient of a broken orbital bone for his tough guy efforts, and that injury still has him sidelined. Recently, Ottawa lost their first game this season to Carolina, which dropped their record to 6-1. The loss left the Nashville Predators as the only unbeaten team this far into the season. Les Habitants, after their 3-2 overtime thrilling win against Philadelphia Tuesday night, sit on top of the Northeast division, with 14 points. The Koivu line was largely successful in shutting down Peter Forsberg's potent line, keeping the trio off of the score sheet last game. His line wasn't able to contribute any offence that evening, but Mike Ribeiro's line picked up the slack with 2 out of the 3 goals. Jose Theodore played a strong game continuing to show signs of improvement over his earlier struggles.
The Senators will be without winger Martin Havlat, who is serving the 4th of his 5 game suspension for kicking Boston defenseman Hal Gill earlier this month. Havlat is earning a reputation as a trouble child with Colin Campbell and the NHL's front office, as Havlat was disciplined 3 times last season, including 2, 2 game suspensions, one for kicking and the other for high sticking. Without Havlat, the Senators have juggled their top two lines with varying results. Winger Dany Heatley has adjusted quickly to playing in Ottawa, as he currently leads the team with 11 points. Centre Jason Spezza, is currently matched with Heatley, along with rookie Brandon Bochenski, to form the Senators top line. Bochenski has had a cold start to the season, after dominating the exhibition season with a better than a goal a game clip. The Sens head coach Bryan Murray has indicated that Bochenski's production will need to improve soon or else he will be relegated to the fourth line, or demoted. Forward Patrick Eaves is chomping at the bit for a return to Ottawa, either at the expense of Bochenski or on his own merits. During Patrick's recent one game call up for last Monday's game, he contributed a goal, but was then sent back to the AHL farm team. Other bright spots for the Senators have been their captain, Daniel Alfredsson, who has also contributed 10 points so far this season. He's a Hab killer, producing 31 points over the last 22 games against the Habs. This season Alfie has been paired with centre Bryan Smolinksi on the 2nd line, who has struggled with only 2 points, and the line's other winger have included Havlat as well as Mike Fisher. A good deal of the Senators success is attributed to the excellent play of veteran goaltender Dominik Hasek.
Entering this game, the Dominator has been impressive, with a 5-1 record, a 1.95 GAA, a .931 save percentage and 1 shutout. Despite the fine start, various media are reporting that rookie backup Ray Emery will get the start against the Habs. The tall (6'3") netminder's only other start was against the Canadiens.
Given the Habs recent successes, it's safe to state that coach Julien will keep the lineups the same for now. Due to the new CBA, there have been no call ups from the farm team, as all reserves have been pressed into the lineup. When injured forwards Richard Zednik, Niklas Sundstrom and Ivanans return the lineup will change but no one should have to be sent down. The team will need all 4 lines to exhibit a strong defensive awareness against the Senators, who boast the 6th best power play and 4th best penalty killing in the NHL.
Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Brandon Bochenski
Mike Fisher-Bryan Smolinski-Daniel Alfredsson
Peter Schaefer-Antoine Vermette-Chris Neil
Vaclav Varada- Kelly-Brian McGrattan
Wade Redden-Anton Volchenkov
Chris Phillips-Zdeno Chara
Andrej Meszaros-Brian Pothier
Injuries & Scratches: Martin Havlat (suspension), Dominik Hasek (G, backup)
Alex Perezhogin-Saku Koivu-Alexei Kovalev
Richard Zednik-Mike Ribeiro-Michael Ryder
Jan Bulis-Radek Bonk-Steve Begin
Tomas Plekanec-Chris Higgins-Mathieu Dandenault
Sheldon Souray-Mike Komisarek
Andrei Markov-Craig Rivet
Francis Bouillon-Mark Streit
Injuries & Scratches: Cristobal Huet [G, knee], Raitis Ivanans [LW/RW, fractured orbital], Niklas Sundstrom [LW, groin], Pierre Dagenais [W, healthy scratch], Yann Danis [G, backup]
Goaltending Match up
Habs Notebook: Richard Zednik has been practicing with the team, and will play tonight on Mike Ribeiro’s line. Plekanec is likely to be relegated to the 4th line, and Dagenais is likely to be scratched.....The Habs power play struggled against the Flyers, going 1 for 10, but their 9th attempt with the man advantage was a game tying goal for Ribeiro late in the game...The penalty killing was somewhat better, limiting the Flyers to only 5 shots in 8 attempts, but 2 of those shots lead to goals...Defensemen Francis Bouillon and Sheldon Souray have been picking up their offensive game over the past 3 games, contributing 2 assists each; Souray's plus minus statistic has been +3 over the same game span...Rivet stated to the media yesterday that he feels fortunate to play with Markov, as he’s both a good offensive and defensive player….The Habs are 2-0 in overtime games.
Senators Statements: The preliminary Team Canada roster for the 2006 Olympics included Senators forwards Spezza, Heatley and defensemen Redden and Chris Phillips...Tough guy Chris Neil has been a surprising contributor on offence, popping 4 goals and 3 assists in his first 7 games. Linemate Peter Schaefer has also been contributing, adding 4 points in the past 3 games....The Senators are 2-0 in shootout games.
The Week Ahead:
Saturday: NY Rangers @ Montreal, 7:00 pm
Monday: Montreal @ NY Rangers, 7:00 pm
Tuesday: Florida @ Montreal, 7:30 pm