The Montreal Canadiens games against the Ottawa Senators will decide the Atlantic Division. The rival teams play each other twice this weekend on a home-and-home, and again in Montreal next Saturday.
Montreal Canadiens Games Versus Ottawa Senators to Decide Division
For most of the season, the Montreal Canadiens looked like they were going to own the Atlantic Division. On January 14, after the Canadiens beat the New York Rangers, and the Senators lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Habs held a 12-point advantage over the Sens.
But since then, the Senators went 17-8-3, while the Habs have gone 12-12-2. The Sens have been slowly climbing the standings, and even surpassed the idle Habs last Saturday. Now, they sit a single point behind with a game in hand.
With four weeks left in the season, divisional games are four-point games. In this case, the next three Montreal Canadiens games against the Ottawa will set the division, and will decide who gets home-ice advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
It should make for fantastic hockey between two teams who have developed a rivalry in recent years. They played each other in the playoffs for the first time in 2013, and then again in 2015. The NHL even decided to award an outdoor game between the two teams to mark 100 years of the NHL’s first games next season. And this weekend’s games are unofficially their third playoff series.
Here are the keys to victory for each team.
Montreal Canadiens Keys to Victory
One word: goals. The Canadiens need their goal-scoring groove back in order to win these games. The Habs, at one point one of the highest-scoring teams in the league, now are ranked 17th in the NHL for goals scored. Under Claude Julien, they are a fantastic 8-4, but have only scored 25 goals, and have been shutout twice. Only three times have they scored more than three goals – one of those games was an OT win, and the other had two empty-net goals.
Many criticised general manager Marc Bergevin for not acquiring a top-six forward at the trade deadline. He was right in keeping his top-six as is, with 13 of the 25 goals coming from Max Pacioretty, Paul Byron and Alex Galchenyuk. He traded for three grit bottom-six forwards in Steve Ott, Andreas Martinsen and Dwight King to change the identity of the fourth line. But the depth scoring just isn’t there.
Outside the top-six, only Andrew Shaw, more of a top-nine forward, has scored multiple goals under Julien with three. Artturi Lehkonen and Torrey Mitchell each have a goal, while Phillip Danault, who was the team’s number-one center under Michel Therrien, has yet to score.
The Canadiens are winning because of their stingy defense and Carey Price. But it won’t be good enough to beat the red-hot Senators, so the offense really needs to step up.
Ottawa Senators Keys to Victory
General manager Pierre Dorin did a fantastic job of acquiring Alexandre Burrows and Viktor Stalberg at the trade deadline to boost their offense. Burrows had only nine goals in 55 games with the Vancouver Canucks, but has four goals in eight games with Ottawa. Stalberg also has two goals with his new team.
They have been the keys to Ottawa’s resurgence in March. Since their 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on February 27, they have a 6-1-1 record. They had a six-game winning streak until they lost to the Lightning in overtime on Tuesday, and lost 2-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.
The Senators will need to continue playing hot to win games against the Canadiens. No other way of putting it. All their cylinders are firing, and they need that to win more games. They have 23 goals this month, fifth-most in league, and from 13 different scorers. Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman are playing like a true leaders with nine points each in the last nine games. Mike Condon, who will likely be starting both games against his former team, has a .943 save percentage and 1.96 goals-against average in his last three starts. As a team, they have allowed less than two goals a game this month, one of the best in the league.
The Ottawa Senators have a tendency for winning games in the spring, and they will look to continue that this weekend. Unlike the Montreal Canadiens, who have a specific key to victory, the Senators just need to play their game. It will be hard for the Canadiens to tame a wild fire.