In the standings, Ottawa are in the basement (or they just got out). Montreal firmly in a playoff position.
Really, these are two teams separated by a game that took place last weekend. A game that the Canadiens took, but could have easily have lost. These teams are similar foes.
The similarities go beyond the win-loss columns. Both teams have had trouble scoring. Both have a line that "works" and a second in progress, with a third and fourth that have delayed their offensive contributions for future dates. Both teams have a shaky defense. And both teams have plenty of players thoroughly confused by what Jacques Martin expects of a player.
OK, this we know. But how does it affect this game we have coming up tonight?
Well, in my opinion this makes Montreal and Ottawa truer and clearer rivals than they've ever been. Being on the same track at the same time is a big change for two teams that lived at different ends of spectrums for a decade.
Last game tells us what we really need to know about this upcoming one. Kostitsyn enjoyed his freedom in the Ottawa coverage, Plekanec too. Gill thrived for once as Ottawa didn't always press the issue. Or at least that's how it ended.
The alternate version if the Canadiens forwards hadn't scored on an early breakaway and completed a 3-goal comeback showed that Spezza liked loose Montreal coverage, and so did Michalek with 5 shots and 2 goals.
Since that game, Montreal has played but once. The team had a glorious chance to keep the boot firmly on the head of an important rival, but squandered the chance. Ottawa needed wins, but only came upon the formula last night when they bested Buffalo through Alfredsson's history-making effort. The Sens could rightly see that as putting their course on the up, the Habs should see their Jersey debacle as a warning flag for an upcoming precipice they try to avoid.
Which version of history will repeat? Hopefully the former. But that game was a losing formula come good. If the Cansdiens want to win, they need to pay more attention to the Sens that pose greatest danger: Spezza, Alfredsson, Gonchar, Karlsson and avoid digging a hefty hole to escape from. Key again, of course will be Carey Price who will be called upon to cover the Markov sized hole again. Key also Cammalleri and Kostitsyn who could ensure Ottawa has defense on their minds.
In the second of six match-ups in a series that is ever looking the split, this game should be an interesting glimpse into the aspirations of two teams.