OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators may be looking down at Montreal in the standings this season but beating the Canadiens has still proved difficult.
The Senators are 1-2 this season against Montreal going into games Wednesday at the Bell Centre and Friday at Scotiabank Place.
"They've played really well against us," said Senators coach Paul MacLean. "They've been difficult games so we expect the same thing."
Still the teams appear heading in opposite directions—Ottawa is 6-3-1 in its last 10 while Montreal was 3-6-1.
Going into Tuesday night's play, the Canadiens (27-32-11) were dead last in the Eastern Conference while the Senators (36-25-9)were seventh.
But Ottawa players aren't reading much into the numbers. And they know they will be playing in a hostile environment Wednesday.
"Their fans are all over us all the time and they have so much energy in the first period and always come out hard," said defenceman Jared Cowen. "In the past it's just been weather the storm. Usually if you get past the first period not down a couple of goals you're doing well and then you take it from there."
Cowen admits it can often be the same scenario when they play Montreal back at home.
"They usually have a lot of fans here too so it’s like two road games for us."
The Senators also believe the Canadiens make for a dangerous opponent as teams who are out of the playoff picture tend to play with less pressure.
"Guys can just play how they really want to and can just relax," said Cowen. "I think it’s important for us to be ready to go and on our toes. Sometimes those teams play a different game so I expect it will be a tough game."
The Senators were in the same situation last season when they sat near the bottom of the standings and it was during those last few weeks that they played some of their best hockey.
The Canadiens are 2-0-1 in their last three games and the Senators definitely took note of Montreal's 4-1 win over Vancouver on the weekend.
“I think we definitely are weary of a team like that, maybe other teams may take them for granted, but we know how it is to be that team," said star forward Jason Spezza. "You're proud people as athletes and you want to show people you’re not going to quit and that’s for sure what’s going on in their room right now.
"It's the same that was going on in our room. You're gripping your stick a little less tight because there’s less at stake so it’s a tough team to play against. It's a dangerous time to play against a team that’s playing loose and playing with confidence and playing with not much to lose."
Ben Bishop will make his fourth straight start in goal for the Sens. Bishop is 2-0-1 with a .926 save percentage during that stretch.
The six-foot-seven Bishop has heard about the rivalry between the two teams and the intensity from Montreal fans and is looking forward to the challenge.
"It's one of those places you always want to go and play a game,”said Bishop. "I heard it's like playing in a soccer stadium where they’re hooting and hollering the whole game so it should be a lot of fun. It takes you back to your college days when you’re getting screamed at the whole game."
No. 1 goalie Craig Anderson has been making progress in his recovery from a cut to his right hand, but there is still no timetable for his return. Anderson faced shots for several minutes in practice Tuesday before leaving the ice.
"It was a good sign to see him out there for a little bit, it's a step in the right direction," said MacLean.
The Senators, along with management, fans and sponsors, will be taking the train to Montreal as part of a“heritage”journey.
Notes: Forward Jesse Winchester continues to make progress in his return from a concussion, but still needs to undergo the concussion protocol before he can be cleared to play.