Two teams going in opposite directions will meet Tuesday at Bell Centre when the Ottawa Senators bring their three-game winning streak into town to face the Montreal Canadiens, who have lost six of their past seven games (1-4-2).
Despite their recent struggles, the Canadiens (12-10-5) owned the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference heading into games Monday.
The rebuilding Senators (12-12-3) have been riding some improved defense during their winning streak to pull within two points of the Canadiens in the standings. The Senators, who have allowed the most goals in the NHL (109), have given up five goals in their past three games and just two in their past two games.
"At the start of the year I knew we were not going to be good defensively," Senators coach Guy Boucher said Monday, "no matter how much time we would have spent on it because of personnel, age, experience and so on. You need to have something to hang your hat on and have something that makes you feel good."
Boucher said the team instead concentrated on scoring goals (which has worked, the Senators have scored 98 goals, third most in the NHL).
"We bet on the right thing," Boucher said. "The offense was there. The defensive part of the game is extremely dependent on the experience part. We knew it would take a lot of time for the young guys to get that experience."
Boucher said the players have made a commitment collectively to improve defensively.
"Right now there's a huge commitment," he said.
The Senators are coming off a 3-0 win against the New York Rangers on Thursday and a 6-2 win against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.
"We've seen ourselves grow in the last two games," Senators goaltender Craig Anderson said. "The last game against the Rangers, we were outstanding for 60, and (Sunday) again, outstanding for 60 minutes. We're starting to string some momentum together, and playing in the right direction, playing the right way, and I think our guys are getting rewarded, too. We scored (six) goals."
The Canadiens are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Sharks on Sunday at Bell Centre. The Canadiens got behind early to the Sharks, 2-0, and never recovered.
"We're still a young team that's still trying to improve," Canadiens coach Claude Julien said on montrealcanadiens.com. "Learning to win is part of the development for a young team. You have to learn from these kinds of games, even if I found that we played well in the second and third periods.
"We can't start games like that and think we are going to win."
"Those two goals at the start hurt us," Canadiens forward Phillip Danault told the team's website. "They cost us the game. ... We got some momentum back in the third period, but it wasn't enough."
This will be the second game of the season between the Canadiens and the Senators and the first of three in a stretch of 12 days. After the game Tuesday, they meet in Ottawa on Thursday and back at Bell Centre Dec. 15.
The Senators twice overcame two-goal deficits to win 4-3 in overtime in their first meeting Oct. 20 in Ottawa.
Defenseman Justin Falk, signed as a free agent by the Senators on Friday, is expected to play his second game after a strong debut Saturday. Senators defensemen Mark Borowiecki and Maxime Lajoie are out with injuries.