The Ottawa Senators eased the building pressure on themselves on Tuesday with a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. At one point, the score was 2-1, but rather than allowing the other team back into the game, they were able to push back, and keep the game out of reach. Of course, it helped that they were playing backup goalie (and former Sen) Curtis McElhinney. McElhinney wasn't terrible, but he didn't have it in him to steal the game, either.
This game marks the first meeting of the teams since their instant classic playoff series last "season." The Senators won that series in five games, as they and head coach Paul MacLean got into the Habs' heads in game one and simply never left.
Habs fans are still talking about that series and what might have been, and still desperately chirping about how P.K. Subban is better than Erik Karlsson, while Sens fans can simply point out that Karlsson has more goals, more points, more hits, and fewer PIMs in one fewer game. My advice? Don't engage the debate. The fact that Karlsson's better does not mean that Subban isn't an outstanding player in his own right. It's not an either/or situation, so don't feed the arguments that try to make it one.
History and player comparisons aside, this is a pretty big game for the Senators. They desperately need to build on the momentum of merely not shooting themselves in the foot, and are currently three points back of the Canadiens for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Sens can't catch the Habs tonight, but these are probably the most pivotal two points they've had a chance to earn yet this season. At home against what should sadly be the first sellout crowd of the season, a convincing win tonight could go a long way towards the team restoring both fans' faith, and its faith in itself.
Per the impeccable Sylvain St. Laurent, Ottawa's lines tonight:
Paul MacLean has said there will be no lineup changes, so the defensive pairings remain:
On the other side, Montreal is missing quite a few players due to injury, and head coach Michel Therrien has shaken up his lines due to the Habs earning just one point in their last three games. Lines in practice were:
Some talking points:
- Price is actually having a pretty strong season. He's gone 6-6-1 with a .933 save percentage and 2.16 GAA. Sens fans expecting to see the same guy from the playoffs will probably be disappointed.
- Robin Lehner, as you know, is awesome. His 1-2-2 record does not fairly reflect his .943 save percentage and 2.39 GAA. That's currently the second-best save percentage in the NHL.
- Josh Harding leads the league with a .951 save percentage in 12 games. That's not relevant, but still ridiculous.
- Kassian and Parros are in their respective lineups, so prepare yourselves for an awkward attempt to hug out the bad blood from the teams' last meeting.
- In terms of scoring, Ottawa has four players in the top 30: Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Kyle Turris, and Bobby Ryan.
- Even a fool can see that Turris' line has been the best for Ottawa. But Spezza continues to generate points with different linemates--he had the primary assists on Chris Neil's goals and Erik Karlsson's second goal on Tuesday. It would be really great for everyone involved if he could stabilize the top six alongside his current linemates.
- For all the drama between Mika Zibanejad, Stephane Da Costa, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Derek Grant has been quietly solid as a fourth-line center. When Erik Condra returns from his leg injury, his addition to a line that has Grant and Cory Conacher could make for an ideal bottom six trio.
- I don't know what's going on with Milan Michalek, Z. Smith, and Chris Neil. That's a spare parts line.
- Jared Cowen had his best game of the season playing alongside Erik Karlsson. Is he getting better or is Karlsson just really easy to play with? Probably both, and one probably follows the other.
- Maybe it's just because he doesn't want to change a winning lineup. Maybe it's because he remembers how the playoffs went last year. But MacLean is sitting Patrick Wiercioch in favor of Mark Borowiecki and Eric Gryba. Among those three, BoroCop leads the group in own-goals. Expect a lot of hitting tonight.