Canadiens, Senators meet in key Atlantic battle

OTTAWA -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and seven of the NHL's Top 100 players were on hand Friday as the formal announcement was finally made for an outdoor game between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 16, 2017.

"We also all know we have three important games coming up this week as well," Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said when it was his turn at the podium. "We're going to hope those three games are great as well."

At the very least, they will have plenty of significance.

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When the Canadiens (39-23-8) visit Canadian Tire Centre on Saturday, they will be holding a one point lead on the Senators (39-23-7) in the battle for first place in the Atlantic Division, and Ottawa has a game in hand.

The teams go at it again at Bell Centre in Montreal on Sunday and Mar. 25.

"They're a top team in the league, a team we want to be better than," said Senator defenseman Erik Karlsson, who scored the winning goal in both meetings between the teams this season, a pair of 4-3 Ottawa victories with the first ending in a shootout. "We will be focused on the game (Saturday), at first. However that goes, that's all we're going to care about that. Then we're going to move on to the next one, which just happens to be them on Sunday.

"They're a good team. They're going to make it hard on us."

The Senators will be coming off a 2-1 loss to Chicago on Thursday, while Montreal hasn't played since Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Blackhawks.

Canadiens coach Claude Julien already confirmed Carey Price will start in goal on Saturday. He's heating up, with a .945 save percentage in March.

The Ottawa goaltending picture isn't quite so clear.

Craig Anderson missed the past two games with a lower body injury, and while he has been practicing, coach Guy Boucher said he probably wouldn't suit up until Tuesday, and even then it was only possible he'd start against the Bruins.

But on Friday, the Senators reassigned goalie Chris Driedger back to the AHL affiliate in Binghamton, indicating Anderson is ready to return.

Meanwhile, Mike Condon was very good in the loss to the Blackhawks and stole a point for the team in Tuesday's 2-1 overtime loss against Tampa Bay.

Condon was Montreal's primary starter when Price missed most of last season with an injury, but the 26-year-old says facing his old team this weekend would hold no added significance for him.

"It seems so long ago and this is a business," said Condon. "You're going to be playing on multiple teams throughout your career. I've got nothing but admiration and respect for everyone over there. They treated me really well and gave me a chance. It's about respect, but it's a big game and two points."