Saturday, December 16, 2017

Saturday storylines: Let's take it outside

Who wants a cold one? Tonight marks the return of outdoor hockey, as the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens meet at Lansdowne Park. It’s also a rare Saturday night without the Toronto Maple Leafs or Vancouver Canucks, while the three remaining Canadian teams get a tour of the Central.

HNIC Game of the Night: Canadiens at Senators

There isn’t much question over where most of the attention will be turned tonight, as the Habs and Sens take it outside at Lansdowne Park in what’s been dubbed the NHL 100 Classic. The game commemorates the meeting between the Canadiens and the original Senators in one of the first two NHL games ever played, way back on Dec. 19, 1917.

But while you can expect to see plenty of history on display, we can forgive these two teams if they’re focused squarely on the present. That’s especially true for the Senators, who desperately need a win to build some momentum after a brutal few weeks that’s seen them lose 12 of 14 to plummet well out of the playoff race. With rumours swirling of major changes on the way – and their GM being forced to deny that he’s about to fire the coach – the Senators are a team that desperately needs to start making up some ground.

They took the first step towards that on Wednesday with a win over the New York Rangers. The two points were important, but the way they were earned them may have mattered even more. Craig Anderson looked strong, Bobby Ryan was a force, Zack Smith finally scored and Matt Duchene may have earned his most important point as a Senator.

Almost as important: With a win under their belt, the Senators can now enjoy hosting the franchise’s first outdoor game, or at least go through the process without feeling like they can’t so much as smile. Still, the timing of tonight’s event isn’t ideal.

Between the losing, Erik Karlsson’s contract comments, a push for a new arena and rumours around ownership, conventional wisdom would say that the last thing this team would seem to need right now is even more distractions. But on the other hand, maybe that’s exactly what they could use. There are worse ways for an NHL team to forget its troubles than by getting out under the lights for a little pond hockey. And if a big crowd inspires Ottawa to collect a win against a division rival it’s chasing in the playoff hunt, even better.

Or they faceplant in front of a national audience. There’s that possibility too.

As for the Canadiens, their up-and-down season continues to defy any attempt at analysis. They lost three straight before beating the Devils on Thursday, falling back out of a playoff spot they’d climbed into possession of last week. The way things have been going this year, that means it’s time for everyone to write them off, at which point they’ll run off another win streak and surge back up the standings.

Outdoor games are always tough to predict – the puck bounces even more than usual, the weather can affect different players in different ways, and the whole endeavour often feels like it’s taking place as a separate piece of its own instead of as part of a larger season. For these two teams right now, that might be a good thing. The league might want tonight to be all about the past, but if the Sens and Habs can’t start banking wins soon, their playoff hopes might be history.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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