Senators-Canadiens Preview

The Associated Press

While everything seems to be falling into place for the surging Ottawa Senators, the team across the border in Quebec simply appears to be falling apart.

Ottawa seeks its eighth win in nine contests Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens, who upstaged their latest defeat with a surprising trade in the middle of the game.

Montreal (16-20-7) pulled Michael Cammalleri off the bench during Thursday night's 2-1 loss at Boston and traded him to Calgary for Rene Bourque. The deal that also included a minor leaguer, a European goalie and a pair of draft picks.

The timing was suspicious one day after Cammalleri was quoted by TSN in Canada as saying, "We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it's no wonder why we lose."

General manager Pierre Gauthier, however, insists he made the trade to improve the sputtering club, and coach Randy Cunneyworth backed him up.

"It's just something that is not too common during a game, but he was pulled away from the ice and obviously been dealt," Cunneyworth said. "The only message is that we're trying to improve our team. Obviously, a general manager makes a deal only if he feels he's strengthening the team. We feel that will be the case. That's the only motive and we feel strongly about that."

The trade was simply the latest bit of drama in the proud franchise's hugely disappointing season. The club has already fired assistant coach Perry Pearn, then later head coach Jacques Martin, and currently faces an ongoing controversy about Cunneyworth's inability to speak French.

All of it stems from the Canadiens' inability to win games. They've sunk dangerously close to the bottom of the Eastern Conference after losing nine of 12.

Montreal is 3-8-0 under Cunneyworth after totaling one goal in back-to-back losses. Captain Brian Gionta, the team leader with 29 goals last season, suffered a torn biceps in the first of those defeats and may be out for the season.

Gauthier hopes Bourque's size will help the Canadiens in front of the net, but he won't be able to contribute Saturday as he finishes serving a five-game suspension for elbowing Washington's Nicklas Backstrom in the head Jan. 3.

The Canadiens may need several goals to keep up with Ottawa (24-15-6), which has averaged 3.5 goals during a 10-1-2 stretch. The club's only regulation loss in that stretch was a 6-2 defeat to Montreal on Dec. 27.

The Senators have been especially impressive on this three-game road trip, opening with a 5-1 victory at Pittsburgh before stifling the East-leading New York Rangers in a 3-0 win Thursday.

Jason Spezza scored a pair of goals and Craig Anderson stopped all 34 shots to post his first shutout of the season and improve to 7-0-1 with a 1.63 goals-against average in his last eight outings.

"He's just so steady back there right now and you can tell he's got confidence," Spezza said. "When your goalie exudes that type of confidence, the team has that type of confidence."

Defenseman Erik Karlsson, meanwhile, returned after missing one game with an upper-body injury and contributed two assists.

The emerging star has 17 points and is a plus-15 in his last 12 contests, although he's pointless with a minus-5 in Ottawa's two losses to the Canadiens this season.

Montreal's Carey Price is 6-1-0 with a 1.58 GAA against the Senators since the start of last season.

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