Canadiens’ Francis Bouillon, left, Petteri Nokelainen, Josh Gorges, Alexei Emelin, Brendan Gallagher, Ryan White and Brian Gionta listen to coach Michel Therrien during practice on Tuesday.
Photograph by: John Mahoney, The Gazette
MONTREAL — Home sweet home?
The Canadiens are hoping that’s the case as they welcome the Ottawa Senators to the Bell Centre Wednesday (7 p.m., TSN, RDS, TSN Radio 690).
The Canadiens have a more-than-respectable 8-3-2 record on home ice, but captain Brian Gionta knows he and his teammates can improve on that mark.
“We have such passionate fans and they’re always there for us and it’s nice to reward them with some wins at home,” said Gionta, who smiled at the suggestion that the key to success might be a close-checking game like the ones that have allowed Montreal to fashion an impressive 9-2-2 record on the road.
It was anything but close-checking the last time the Canadiens played at home on March 2. They engaged the Pittsburgh Penguins in a game that was entertaining for the fans but frustrating for the players, who finished on the short end of a 7-6 count in overtime.
That game spotlighted a major flaw in the Canadiens’ game this season. The Penguins rallied from a 2-1 deficit to take a 4-2 lead with three second-period goals.
“There are plenty of times when we’ve come up big in the third period and we’ve had solid starts,” Gionta said. “The second period seems to stand in the way of a solid 60-minute game. We get caught in a lull and we have to work through that as a team. There are some things we have to correct.”
That’s not to say the Canadiens haven’t done some good things in the second period. They rank fourth in the NHL with 30 second-period goals, but have also allowed 30. By contrast, they have outscored the opposition 24-10 in the first period and 27-10 in the third.
When the Canadiens got off to a strong start, people pointed to the fact they played eight of their first 11 games at home. The schedule has evened out after 26 games and the Canadiens are still winning. In fact, they have a better record on the road after going 4-1 on their longest road trip of the season.
“The guys are playing hard and they deserve respect and they deserve credit,” coach Michel Therrien said.
The Canadiens have been in first place in the Eastern Conference for the better part of the past month, but haven’t been able to shake the Boston Bruins, who have played fewer games. If the two teams continue to win, first place in the Northeast Division will likely be decided in the two remaining games between the rivals — March 27 in Boston and April 6 at the Bell Centre.
The Senators, who have beaten the Canadiens in two of their three meetings this season, are holding on to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but their injuries have started to catch up to them. They have only one win in their last six games, although two of their losses were in shootouts and one was in overtime.
Jason Spezza (back surgery) and Norris Trophy-winning defenceman Erik Karlsson are long-term casualties, while Craig Anderson — the top goaltender in the NHL — has a sprained ankle and hasn’t played since Feb. 21. To add to the Senators’ woes, Milan Michalek has a sprained ankle and coach Paul MacLean said he won’t be playing in Montreal.
The Canadiens have survived a number of injuries and there was some good news Tuesday. Rene Bourque, who suffered a concussion on Feb. 21, has resumed skating. If all goes well, he could be back in the lineup next week. And defenceman Raphael Diaz, who has been out with a concussion since Feb. 2, is working out in the gym, which is a sign of progress. If there are no setbacks, he could be skating by the weekend.
With Diaz and Yannick Weber (lower body) out, rookie defenceman Greg Pateryn will play his third consecutive game. Carey Price will start in goal, while Ben Bishop is the likely starter for Ottawa. He made 44 saves when the Senators beat the Canadiens 2-1 on Feb. 25 in Ottawa.
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