Game Preview: Ottawa Senators play host to the Montreal Canadiens

OTTAWA, ON - DECEMBER 17: Ottawa Senators Right Wing Drake Batherson (79) skates by the bench to celebrate a goal during first period National Hockey League action between the Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators on December 17, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
OTTAWA, ON - DECEMBER 17: Ottawa Senators Right Wing Drake Batherson (79) skates by the bench to celebrate a goal during first period National Hockey League action between the Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators on December 17, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Ottawa Senators are getting set to play their third preseason game tonight as the Montreal Canadiens visit the Canadian Tire Centre.

Following their two wins against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators are hosting the Montreal Canadiens this evening before heading out west to play two games against the Vancouver Canucks. The team announced late yesterday afternoon that they had reduced their training camp roster by 11. The training camp roster is now composed of 42 players, and I would expect that number to dwindle again before the team heads to Vancouver.

Turning our attention to tonight’s game, fans will have the opportunity to see two of the forward lines head coach DJ Smith will have on opening night, as well as the Thomas Chabot and Nikita Zaitsev pairing on defence.

The top-two lines this evening are expected to be the Tkachuk/White/C. Brown line as well as the Duclair/Pageau/Batherson combination. I’ve written about these two lines a lot in the last week, discussing how Smith clearly likes what he sees from these two lines as they have been together pretty much since the start of training camp. At this point, it seems fairly obvious that these two lines will be together to start the season which means two things.

First, I would hazard to assume that this means Drake Batherson has pretty much locked up a spot for himself on the opening night roster. I absolutely love this kid’s potential and I am so excited to see him in Ottawa on a nightly basis. Second, this means that at this point the coach has probably seen everything he wants to see – or needs to see – from these two lines. Every game they play from here on in during preseason is simply to continue building their chemistry and getting to know each other on the ice. I like the fact that the coach has stuck with much of his lines through training camp, it really allows the players to develop and foster their chemistry with one another.

On the backend, there are three defensemen playing in tonight’s game that are locks for the opening roster. Thomas Chabot, Nikita Zaitsev, and Dylan Demelo are all expected to suit up for tonight’s tilt against the Canadiens. Chabot and Zaitsev have been together since the start of camp, but they have yet to play in a preseason game so this will be their first opportunity to work together in a game situation. By all accounts, the two defensemen have been developing some chemistry during practice sessions, but nothing can quite replicate game action. I will be very interested in seeing them play tonight.

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Dylan Demelo will once again be paired with Max Lajoie, who is still fighting for one of the available spots on the backend. At this point, the final two spots on the defence are more than likely to go to Christian Jaros and Max Lajoie. Erik Brannstrom is in the mix as well, but I think he would really have to surpass expectations during camp to beat out one of these two guys. I think the Ottawa Senators have already decided that they want Brannstrom to play the majority of the season down in Belleville of the American Hockey League.

Lajoie and Demelo have been paired together pretty much since the start of camp, so Lajoie has gotten comfortable with Thomas Chabot’s former defence partner. If Lajoie is to make this team – and I think his chances are pretty good – he will be the sixth/seventh defenceman with Christian Jaros. I fully expect both those defensemen to make the final roster and be rotated in and out of the lineup depending on the game and the opponent.

Filling in the roster for tonight’s game are two or three bubble guys – guys still fighting to show that they can make this team – and the rest are pretty much already labelled for the American Hockey League.

These bubble guys are Max Veronneau, Alex Formenton, and Jonathan Davidsson. All three will be playing tonight trying to show the coaching staff that they have what it takes to play in the NHL on a nightly basis. In all honesty, I’d expect all three to end up in Belleville to start the season but this is a very good opportunity to make an impression on the coach and the management staff as there will always be callups during the regular season.

Let’s not forget that Jonathan Davidsson was one of the last cuts at Blue Jackets’ camp last season before heading back to play in Europe where he suffered from concussion issues. Davidsson, who was acquired as part of the Matt Duchene trade last trade deadline, is a player that hasn’t really been talked about much during camp but is one that has gotten the attention of the coaches because he is always in the right spot and always does the little things right. Every coach loves players like that.

Veronneau and Formenton both have limited experience in the National Hockey League, but they are going to need to do more during the next week if they want to have a shot at making the team. As is the case with Erik Brannstrom, I think the Ottawa Senators have pretty much already decided that they will be starting the season in Belleville. I think the organization is determined to have a winning environment in Belleville this season, and with the talent that Troy Mann is going to have that shouldn’t be a problem. I think the organization ideally would want these three, Davidsson included, to continue to grow their game at the minor level and be part of a winning team.

Finally, Craig Anderson is expected to get the start again tonight for the Ottawa Senators. As was the case for both preseason games so far, the starting goaltender will play the first two periods and give way for a young netminder for the third period. Tonight Anderson will be sharing the crease with Joey Daccord.

Here is the entire expected lineup for tonight’s matchup:

If you are interested in finding out a little about what the Montreal Canadiens will look like tonight, check out the game preview at A Winning Habit. The Canadiens will be rolling into town with a good mix of players on the team and players fighting to make the team. Keith Kinkaid is expected to get the start in net for them tonight. The Canadiens are also expected to have last year’s first-round pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the lineup. Kotkaniemi was drafted with the third overall selection, that is one selection ahead of Brady Tkachuk.

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Puck drop is scheduled for just after 7:30 PM and the game will be available on TSN5 in the Sens region and on the TSN1200 airwaves.

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