The Habs run into the Senators at a very opportune moment in the season, as the Sens are dealing with injuries to multiple key players, and, of course, are dealing with a goaltending controversy from within.
The Canadiens (28-16-9) are 3 points away from division rival and Eastern Conference leading Ottawa (32-17-4) as they prepare to host them tonight at the Bell Centre. The two clubs will meet again this coming Saturday in Ottawa at ScotiaBank Place.
Ottawa has been in the news all year; sometimes for reasons that they enjoy, and, more recently/often, for reasons that are detrimental to the club overall.
Ray Emery is in the headlines AGAIN today as reports indicate that "Rayzor" Ray left practice and then left the facility early. This is the latest event in what can be considered an epic saga of events that have transpired between Emery and the Sens this season, ranging from altercations with teammats (McGratton), verbal disturbances during practice (Neil), and his own failure to arrive to practice on time on two separate occasions. Emery has been nothing but a distraction this season, and it is very unfortunate for him and the Sens as well. Slated to be the starter for the Senators this year after taking them to the Finals in last year's playoffs, Emery suffered a wrist injury which required surgery in the pre-season, which inevitably led to Martin Gerber being named the starter. Gerber took off, tallying win after win after win while Emery healed, and the emergence of Gerber solidified his position as the team's #1. Since his return, Emery has struggled when given the chance to play, and his frustrations have now carried over negatively.
As if the "Emery Situation" isn't enough, Ottawa have now been dealt significant blows in the form of injuries. Patrick Eaves, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson are all ruled out for tonight's contest against the Habs, and there is a possibility that top shut-down man Chris Phillips misses tonight's action as well, as he is listed day-to-day with a lower body injury. The Sens are winless this season without Alfie in the lineup...which is why Alfie is strongly considered to be named MVP at season's end. Alfredsson has tallied 2 goals and 4 assists in three games vs. Montreal this season.
If there's any plus for Ottawa tonight, it lies in Martin Gerber. Gerber has gone 7-1-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average in eight lifetime starts versus Montreal.
The Canadiens are looking to rebound from a heartbreaking defeat on home ice suffered at the hands of the New York Rangers this past Sunday afternoon. Montreal dropped a 3-0 lead to eventually lose 5-3. They are 1-1 in their current four-game homestand, and face an injury riddled Sens team tonight before hosting their arch-rival Maple Leafs this Thursday.
The Habs have not defeated Ottawa yet this season, recording a 0-3-o record. They have been outscored 11-6 in that span, but are definitely in their best position yet to secure their first win vs. Ottawa this season with 5 games remaining between the clubs. Cristobal Huet is expected to get the call tonight, while freshly re-called Carey Price will backup. Many believe Price will start Thursday vs. the Leafs, as he is 3-0 vs. Toronto this season. Michael Ryder will be a healthy scratch tonight, and defenceman Roman Hamrlik will be an injured-scratch as he is suffering from the famous Flu bug that the Habs and their fans know about all too well thanks to last season.
Sepcualtion continues to swirl that a deal is in the works between Atlanta and Montreal that would have the Thrashers sending over Marian Hossa. Speculation also suggests that the Thrashers are eyeing Chris Higgins, Michael Ryder, Ryan O'Byrne and prospect d-man Alexei Emelin as possible returns. Don't count on Gainey moving Higgins, but don't rule out any of the other three as the Habs have a deep pool of defensive prospects in the system - and we all know that Ryder's days in Montreal are numbered...we just don't know the actual number.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:38.