The Montreal Canadiens current situation is the perfect example of the tight race going on in the Eastern conference.
Thanks to Carey Price's 38 saves in a shutout win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night, the Habs went back to the first spot in the East, with 87 points. However, the Pittsburgh Penguins took the lead on Wednesday night with as much points, after a 7-3 win against Buffalo.
Thursday night, the Habs hosted their division rivals - the Ottawa Senators - to get a chance to increase the gap between the two teams. However, Martin Gerber and Jason Spezza were determined to battle for the lead.
Sens captain Daniel Alfredson was in uniform, after missing a few games due to back pains.
The game started off nicely for the Habs, with a power play just after 40 seconds. But the Sens were the ones to take advantage of their power play with a goal by Jason Spezza while Canadiens Mark Streit was in the penalty box.
Spezza doubled his team's lead with a man advantage in the second, with Alex Kovalev caught for hooking.
By the end of the second, Antoine Vermette scored against his hometown team to make it 3-0, with an assist by new Senators Martin Lapointe.
Martin Gerber was shining with 28 saves, with his defense line working beautifully in front of him. Carey Price on the other side allowed the three goals on 24 shots, with the defensemen Josh Georges, Francis Bouillon, and defensive forwards Tom Kostopoulos, Brian Smolinski and Mark Streit each getting a minus-1 rating.
Defenseman Roman Hamrlik led his team with four shots on Gerber, followed by Alex Kovalev with three.
On Wednesday morning, the standing was:
On Friday morning, it is:
At this time last season, the Habs were already battling for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. Tuesday, after the win against the Devils, they were talking about their new target: getting the first spot.
However, they will have to watch their division rivals, the Sens, in order to ensure at least the second spot, and get the ice-advantage for the playoffs.
Both teams will meet again twice before the regular season ending. Apart from the Sens, Montreal will face the Islanders, the St.Louis Blues, the Bruins (for a back-to-back game), Buffalo and Toronto (twice each).
On the other side, Ottawa will play against the Hurricanes, the St.Louis Blues, Buffalo (back-to-back), Toronto and Boston (twice each).
We can start the speculations and calculations about the possible standings for the Playoff series!
The Habs will host the struggling Islanders on Saturday night. Ted Nolan's team won only two of their last ten games.
However, the Habs need to be more prepared than ever. As we have seen, loosing a game may cost a lot in the playoff race. Just supposing that the Rangers win against Tampa Bay, they will get two points behind the Canadiens with more games to play. That being said, a sequence of losses might be nasty for the Bleu Blanc Rouge.
Coach Carbo actually brought some refreshing (we'll see about that!) changes to his lineup.
The first line (Kovy-Pleky-Kosty) remains the same, as well as the first two lines of defensemen (Markov-Komi, and Georges-Bouillon). Other than those, it is a whole new team!
Halak will be in the net, Ryder and Latendresse join Koivu while Higgins and S.Kostitsyn will play with Mikhail Grabovski on the third trio. The fourth line should be composed by Kostopoulos, Smolinski and Streit.
Steve Begin started to skate but does not seem to be ready for a return yet; while Mathieu Dandenault, Maxime Lapierre will be put on healthy scratch with Hamilton Bulldogs buddy Ryan O'Byrne leaving his place to Patrice Brisebois.