The post-Cammalleri era begins! Well, sort of…only the effects of his departure will be in evidence as his replacement, Rene Bourque, is not eligible to play until he has finished serving a five-game suspension for having elbowed Niklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals in the head. He is expected, however, to be in the lineup Sunday when the Montreal Canadiens face the surging New York Rangers in the second game of a back-to-back schedule at The Bell Centre.
So, what are we to expect of the 12th place Habs against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday? Was Cammalleri truly as unpopular in the dressing room as has been purported? Does this transaction, the removal of an apparent cancer from the dressing room, represent the turning point that has been eluding the Habs for the past 43 games? Will the effect be in evidence immediately or will fans have to wait until Sunday when Rene Bourque actually makes his debut as a Montreal Canadien? Even then, can we truly expect to see a resurgence?
It is said that the timing of the trade, which was finalized between the 2nd and 3rd periods of last night’s game vs. Boston was surprising; but certainly no more bewildering than the Senator’s recent rising through the ranks. Riding a three game winning streak and having gone 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, the Senators now find themselves firmly entrenched in 5th place in the East and only 2 points out of 4th (although Philadelphia Flyers do have 3 games in hand). It was widely expected that the Sens would not qualify for a playoff spot this season and while nothing is guaranteed the team has turned its season around and is, at least for the moment proving pundits wrong. Momentum is definitely in Ottawa’s corner after the squad shutout the first place New York Rangers 3-0 at Madison Square Gardens.
As for Les Habitants…who knows? To make any predictions of any sort about this team would be foolish. Given the relative success of this rebuilt team the past two years and the maturing of its core of young players, there is no accounting for the type of season that they are putting the fans through. Some will argue that luck and misfortune of other teams helped to create the illusion that these Habs were contenders rather than the pretenders they seem to be today. Others will blame the team’s current woes on a countless string of injuries to key players. Many more will argue that the team needs more size (a need at least partly addressed by Pierre Gauthier in acquiring Rene Bourque).
While the Ottawa Senators are on a tear, the same can hardly be said for the struggling Canadiens. Their 39 points in 43 games leaves them 9 points out of a playoff position with 8th place Washington Capitals holding a game in hand. They have lost 2 in a row and have only won 3 of their last 10 games. The Senators, however, would be wise to not take the opposition lightly. The team will want to prove itself now that an apparently selfish component has been removed. Players who do want to remain may suddenly start to play with commitment in an effort to hold onto their jobs. Some signs of life were indeed in evidence despite a 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday.
Here is how the teams match up:
Offensively: The edge has to go to The Sens who have scored 143 goals to the 110 that Montreal has fired into the opponents’ net.
Defensively: Montreal has performed better than the Senators in allowing 119 while the Ottawa team has surrendered 144.
Goaltending: Somehow Craig Anderson has won 22 games despite a pedestrian 2.99 GAA and a .906 SP. Thankfully, he has a potent offence to make up for the shortcomings defensively and in goal. Carey Price sports a significantly better 2.45 GAA and a .913 SP but has only managed to win 15 games. Naturally, he is not getting the required offensive support from his colleagues. I have made assumptions as to who would be the starting goalies…it may very well be the case that Peter Budaj gives Carey Price a break in the Montreal goal while former Hab Alex Auld can also get the nod to play for the Senators.
Special Teams: Montreal, despite having acquired Thomas Kaberle from Carolina to quarterback the power play only succeeds in 13.2% of its opportunities with the man advantage…good enough for only 29th spot in the 30 team league. This is definitely a major area of concern for the struggling franchise. Looking back in the past two seasons, even without Andrei Markov in the lineup, Montreal used to boast one of the most potent PPs in the league. Fortunately, the team does excel in the penalty – kill. A success rate of 89.1 places them in 2nd place (behind New Jersey) in this capacity.
The Senators power play scores 18.2% of the time and they rank 15th in the league. As far as penalty-killing goes, the Senators kill 80.3% of man-disadvantage situations (24th in the NHL). Montreal would be wise to play a disciplined game and try to capitalize on this apparent weakness.
Season Series: Saturday’s matchup will be the third between these teams this season. Thus far, both games have been played in Ottawa with the same result: a victory by the Montreal Canadiens. Oddly enough, Mike Cammalleri scored the winning goal in a 6-2 blowout on December 27th. Let’s hope that we can do it again without him! Go Habs Go!