Canadiens-Senators Preview

The Associated Press

The Ottawa Senators were playing very well offensively before struggling in the finale of a busy stretch before the holiday break.

Some time off could help Ottawa return to its winning ways, as could facing a Montreal Canadiens team having major problems scoring.

The Senators try to extend their point streak to five Tuesday night when Northeast Division rival Montreal takes a fifth crack at getting interim coach Randy Cunneyworth his first win.

After losing five of six to open the month, Ottawa (17-14-5) went 4-1-1 to enter the break tied for the seventh-most points in the Eastern Conference. Playing their third game in four nights, the Senators had a three-game winning streak snapped Friday with a 2-1 overtime loss at Carolina.

"We didn't really generate a whole lot of offense consistently," coach Paul MacLean said after his team had 23 shots, its fewest since Nov. 17. "We played too much in our own end of the rink. Overall, we're not happy with losing, but we can accept the point under the circumstances."

Ottawa's last five-game point streak was a season-best 6-0-0 stretch Oct. 20-30.

Before Friday's loss, the Senators totaled 14 goals while winning three in a row at home - going 4 for 10 on the power play - and they could get a huge lift Tuesday if Milan Michalek returns.

The veteran forward has not played since Dec. 13 after colliding with teammate Erik Karlsson and suffering a concussion. Michalek led the NHL with 19 goals when he was injured, including seven in his past eight games.

Ottawa's hottest player had been captain Daniel Alfredsson, who had three goals and six assists in a four-game span before being held off the scoresheet Friday. Alfredsson, one goal shy of 400, is pointless in four straight against the Canadiens.

He missed the only meeting this season due to a concussion as Montreal won 2-1 in Ottawa on Nov. 4.

The Canadiens (13-16-7) are 3-0-2 in their last five trips there, but they return having lost five straight overall by a 21-9 score. They've been among the league's lowest-scoring teams since Thanksgiving at 2.21 goals per game, losing 11 of 14.

Montreal is 0-4-0 since Cunneyworth took over for the fired Jacques Martin. Being the team's first non-French speaking coach in more than 40 years has put Cunneyworth in an awkward spot, but he knows that winning should help quiet some of the mounting criticism from Canadiens fans, media, former players and even the Quebec government.

"You have to keep on trying and that's the bottom line," Cunneyworth said following Thursday's 4-0 loss at Winnipeg. "It comes down to competing, being physical and having some resolve in our play. I think it's about sticking together at this time. We are trying to figure out the pieces of the puzzle and everybody has to come together."

As bad as Montreal has played, the club is just six points behind the Senators.

"We have to remember that it's our goal to make the playoffs," goaltender Carey Price told the Canadiens' official website. "... We have to make this push together - it's just that simple."

Price has lost four straight starts while allowing 16 goals, but he's 5-1-0 with a 1.51 GAA in his last six versus Ottawa after turning aside 33 shots Nov. 4.

Canadiens leading goal scorer Erik Cole has a five-game point streak versus Ottawa.

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