Senators, Canadiens try to pull away
Alfredsson, Kuba to return for Ottawa
Snapping a season-high losing streak behind the superb play of a rookie goaltender may have been just what the Ottawa Senators needed to build some confidence. Getting Daniel Alfredsson — the franchise's top scorer — back from injury might be even better.
Mike Brodeur will likely be in net again while Alfredsson and Filip Kuba return from injury as the Senators visit the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday in a meeting of Northeast Division rivals, both boasting 50 points off a record of 23-21-4.
The Senators hold a 2-1 edge in the season series so far while both sit just inside the dividing line of the Eastern Conference playoff picture with the ninth-place Philadelphia Flyers trailing by a single point.
Ottawa was outscored 22-5 during a five-game losing streak, capped by Tuesday's 6-1 loss at Atlanta. That slide was due in part to injuries to its entire top line of Alfredsson (shoulder), center Jason Spezza (knee) and left wing Milan Michalek (upper body). The trio has combined for 30 goals and 42 assists, with Michalek's 16 goals leading the team.
The Senators have also been without defenceman Kuba (upper body) and right wing Jesse Winchester (knee).
Things appeared to be getting worse Thursday when goaltender Pascal Leclaire suffered a concussion when he was struck with a puck during the morning skate. An illness sidelined backup Brian Elliott, forcing Ottawa to recall Brodeur from Binghamton of the AHL.
Hours later, the rookie ended the Senators' slide by making 32 saves to power a 2-0 win at the New York Rangers for his first shutout in only his second start. Brodeur's only other appearance was a 22-save performance in a 4-1 victory over Minnesota on Dec. 19.
"Mike was outstanding. That was the biggest difference," coach Cory Clouston said of Thursday's win.
With Brodeur likely to get a second consecutive start, the Senators could get a lift from Alfredsson and Kuba's return.
Both players practiced Friday, but Alfredsson's inclusion should help the Senators — mired in a 2-for-50 slump on the power play over the last 16 games. He has nine goals and a team-high 22 assists, while holding the team records with 364 goals and 952 points.
"We just don't want to try to rush him," Clouston told the team's official Web site before the decision was made. "He's a little ahead of schedule and we don't want to put him in a position where all of a sudden, one hit and you're out for two or three more weeks. We want to be smart about this and make the right decision."
In 72 games against Montreal (23-21-4), Alfredsson has 28 goals and 94 points — his highest total against any opponent. He also had one goal and one assist in the last meeting at Bell Centre, a 3-1 win Oct. 17.
Montreal is 2-0-1 during this four-game homestand after Thursday's 5-3 win over Dallas. Georges Laraque scored his first goal on his first shot in 26 games with the Canadiens hours after his uncle contacted him from Haiti, two days after an earthquake rocked the island nation's capital of Port-au-Prince.
"It's hard to focus and to think about hockey when your whole country, where your parents were born, is destroyed," Laraque said. "Port-au-Prince is where my mother was born and having family down there and not knowing what's going on, it was super hard.
"To get a goal [Thursday] — which obviously I'm going to dedicate to all Haitians that have lost people and that are still looking for people - for that to happen [Thursday] to me is almost a miracle. To happen on this day it means so much."
Michael Cammalleri ended a four-game pointless drought with a goal and an assist Thursday. The left wing leads the Canadiens with 21 goals and is second with 39 points, and has a goal in each of the three season meetings with Ottawa.
with files from CBCSports.ca