The Ottawa Senators have been a team greater than their parts of late without top-line center Jason Spezza. They may or may not have him available Saturday night when they face the Montreal Canadiens in search of a season-high fourth straight victory.
While being maddeningly inconsistent for the first half of the season, the Senators (18-18-7) could be on the verge of turning the corner as Spezza - fifth on the team with 30 points - deals with a hip flexor injury and will likely be a game-time decision. It wasn't always pretty, but Ottawa made enough plays to sweep a three-game homestand with Thursday's 4-3 victory over Winnipeg as Mika Zibanejad had a goal and an assist while Zack Smith snapped a 2-all tie with 13:18 to play.
Zibanejad, centering Spezza's line with Cory Conacher and Milan Michalek, has scored goals in his last two games and has 10 overall.
"He's been skating very well, he's handled the puck very well," coach Paul MacLean said of the 20-year-old following practice Friday. "Mika has been good skating in the middle of the rink and showing patience in the middle of the rink and distributing the puck and attacking the net."
Bobby Ryan - Ottawa's leader with 18 goals - will try to snap a four-game pointless streak on the road in his second contest after calling Calgary Flames general manager Brian Burke "gutless" for his comments during the selection process that eventually led to Ryan's omission from the United States Olympic roster for Sochi next month.
Craig Anderson, who has allowed seven goals while backstopping all three wins during Ottawa's streak, will get the start according to MacLean. He is 5-6-1 lifetime in the regular season versus Montreal but posted a 1.80 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in eliminating the Canadiens in six games in last season's first-round playoff series.
Robin Lehner turned aside 33 shots in Ottawa's 4-1 victory on Nov. 7 in the only meeting between the teams this season, while Ryan had a goal and two assists.
Montreal (24-14-4) wrapped up its season-longest six-game road swing with a 3-2-1 mark after a 6-4 victory at Dallas on Thursday. Max Pacioretty had two goals and two assists while defenseman P.K. Subban had a four-point game as well with a goal and three assists as the Canadiens matched a season high in goals.
"P.K. probably played his best game of the season, not only offensively, but defensively, too," coach Michel Therrien told the team's official website about Subban, the reigning Norris Trophy winner who is trying to secure a spot on Canada's Olympic roster. "He made good decisions with the puck and that's important. That's what we ask of him, to make good decisions."
Pacioretty is seeking his third consecutive multigoal game but has only two goals and five assists in 22 all-time contests - including playoffs - versus the Senators. Subban has a goal and five assists in helping the Canadiens build a four-game regular-season home winning streak against Ottawa.
Daniel Briere is expected to play for Montreal after Ryan White suffered an upper-body injury in Thursday's win. A healthy scratch the last two games, Briere has gone 10 games without a point since registering an assist versus New Jersey on Dec. 4.
Carey Price is 14-6-3 against Ottawa in the regular season and has a 1.68 GAA in Montreal's current home win streak over the Senators. He made 23 saves in the November loss.