Canadiens finding their Habby place

CHRIS STEVENSON

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

MONTREAL -- The last time the Canadiens won a division title, it wasn't even called the Northeast Division.

Two of the teams in the old Adams Division have since picked up and moved.

The Habs' last division championship came in 1991-92, back when they played in the Adams with the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Hartford Whalers (now in Carolina) and Quebec Nordiques (now in Colorado, of course).

But a win in regulation time tonight against the Senators at the Bell Centre will give the Canadiens a seven-point bulge over the Senators and pretty much lock up the Northeast Division title for Les Glorieux. The Canadiens have five games left after tonight. The Senators have six.

The teams meet for the final time this regular season a week from tomorrow in Ottawa.

It's been a remarkable season for the Canadiens, picked by more than a few experts to finish out of the playoffs.

A return to form for forward Alexei Kovalev, the play of the young Kostitsyn brothers, Andrei and Sergei, the solid play of defenceman Andrei Markov and the emergence of rookie goaltender Carey Price have all been factors. Defenceman Mike Komisarek, out for the rest of the regular season with a suspected groin injury, has evolved into one of the NHL's best defensive defencemen, leading the league in blocked shots and defencemen in hits.

The Canadiens, with 94 points, also have a good shot at their first 100-point season since 1992-93, the last year they won the Stanley Cup and the Senators' first year back in the NHL.

1-5 VS. OTTAWA

But the Habs have had their hands full with the Senators this season, going 1-5 and being outscored 23-11, mostly because the line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson have combined for 14 goals and 22 assists in those six games.

"Those three guys have killed us," said Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau. "We haven't found a solution for them 5-on-5 or on the power play. We'll try and change a few things for (tonight's) game."

The Senators have their own worries.

They continue to suffer catastrophic defensive lapses like they did Saturday night, blowing a 4-2 lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs on their way to a 5-4 loss.

"You're trying to convince the players to do things you talk about every day, taking penalties, turnovers, playing your position and working, helping out defensively. We had clips of the goals for and against and the chances for and against," said Senators GM/coach Bryan Murray.

"There's a difference. We gave up odd-man rushes on four occasions and Toronto really didn't give us an odd-man rush. They collapsed real well in their own end. We got four goals, but they were all real good skilled plays on our part, three in particular. We give them some situations on rebounds and odd-man situations where they were able to capitalize and that was the difference in the hockey game."

Murray hasn't closed the door on catching the Habs, but there are other priorities.

"We have a chance to make it up, but my most important object is to get in (the playoffs) for sure, No. 2 is to get our team playing like I think they are capable of playing and getting to compete.

"We played a great first period (against the Leafs). We were physical, we didn't give up much. We only scored one goal, but certainly we were in a position to play well. Then we had turnovers and we didn't stay to the plan. I've got to try and get our players to buy in for the full 60 minutes and be committed to help each other be successful. When you give up odd-man rushes, you're not helping each other very often."

Captain Daniel Alfredsson perhaps best summed up what happened against the Leafs, and what's been happening lately.

"The third period, we give them their chances. They get 2-on-1s. They don't really have to work for it. That part is obviously very frustrating."


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