Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Statement Game

The Senators are looking to prove they're still the elite team of the East. Martin Gerber is looking to prove he's a bona fide number one goaltender. The Sens, as a team, are looking to prove they can win games without Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. It's a good litmus test for where this team stands right now.

The Canadiens look like they'll be without Roman Hamrlik, who missed the morning skate today with the flu after going -3 on Sunday against the Rangers. Michael Ryder is likely to be the other guy left aside. If the Habs win, they're only one point behind the Sens, who once had what looked like an insurmountable lead in the division and conference.

TSN.ca releases their power rankings every week and this week, the Sens were dropped to #17 and the Habs jumped up to #2, their highest position of the year and trailing only the mighty Detroit Red Wings. I don't know if any f the Sens pay attention to things like this, but it's indicative of the attitude of the hockey world toward their team. They're not really taken seriously as a Cup contender, especially given their current situation between the pipes and with injuries.

Martin Gerber has been brilliant for periods of his career and dismal at others. It seems that every time he's given the title of number one goaltender, he loses his composure and has a bad game or five. He's a guy who's at his best when competing for a starting job, ideally in a tandem situation. He melted down against the Habs in the playoffs a few years ago before Cam Ward stole his starting job and went on to win the Conn Smythe trophy. If that version of Gerber shows up to the Bell Centre tonight, the Habs may be battling for first place on Saturday in Ottawa.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

This Senators team does a great job against the Habs. Chris Neil always gets under Alex Kovalev's skin. Jason Spezza doesn't have Sheldon Souray to undress anymore but he still has a lot of success against the Habs. Mike Fisher is a great player who will have to step up if the Sens want to stay on top.

The story broke last night that the Senators head scout Frank Jay was signed by the Habs after resigning his post with Ottawa. This is a real coup for the Canadiens. Their much-maligned pro scouting gets a boost on this one and adding a guy to your staff with a track record like Jay's bodes well for the next few draft years, which are supposed to the best since 2005.

The Bell Centre will be rockin tonight, that's for sure. The only question is whether the Habs will keep them in the game as their 7th man.

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