Ottawa Senators at Boston Bruins on Jan. 11, 2011

It’s hard to believe Senators general manager Bryan Murray was talking about his team contending for the Northeast Division crown — and probably tangling with the Bruins all season long — just a few short months ago.

THE STORY: It’s hard to believe Senators general manager Bryan Murray was talking about his team contending for the Northeast Division crown — and probably tangling with the Bruins all season long — just a few short months ago. The Bruins are where everyone expected them to be at the top of the division, while the Senators are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs already.

THE SUBPLOTS: With the Senators getting just one out of a possible four points in the two games since the GM called out his players and coaching staff, everyone is still waiting to see how everything shakes out. They’ve performed well in those games, but the results just aren’t there. Is effort alone enough to keep Cory Clouston’s job secure?

THE WILDCARD: Brian Elliott, Senators. The Ottawa netminder has played two great games in a row, and he’ll need to keep it up if the Senators have any hope of beating an elite team like Boston. He’s a professional, but it still has to be a little demoralizing playing goal for this team: The Senators are ranked 29th in the NHL in goals per game (2.21).

THE OPPONENT: The Bruins stormed back with four goals in the last four minutes to take their Monday night match-up against the Sidney Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins, but will they have any energy left to face the Sens? If they don’t, at least they have the top goaltender in the league (Tim Thomas) to rely on. He’ll play the second of back-to-back games.

THE QUOTE: “To me, it’s an opportunity for somebody else to step up, whether it’s a young guy or somebody already in our lineup to pick up those minutes. Just because you score down (in Binghamton), it doesn’t mean it always translates up here, but we’re looking for some offence, some work ethic and some energy, and I think we’ve got that, for the most part (from previous recalls).” — Coach Clouston, discussing his options after announcing Alex Kovalev would miss time with a knee injury.

THE SICK BAY: Senators — G Pascal Leclaire (lower body, day-to-day), C Jason Spezza (shoulder, indefinite), RW Alex Kovalev (knee, one week). Bruins — D Adam McQuaid (undisclosed), RW Nathan Horton (undisclosed), D Mark Stuart (finger), C Trent Whitfield (Achilles)

THE PREDICTION: If the talent gap wasn’t so big between these two teams, I might give the edge to the Senators after the Bruins picked up an emotional win over the Pittsburgh Penguins last night. Ottawa can’t seem to figure out how to pick up two points right now, however, which makes a win in Beantown all the more unlikely. Tuukka Rask was between the pipes against the Pens, which means another match-up against Tim Thomas. Scary. Sens 0, Bruins 3. Click here to see who the rest of our prediction panel likes in this one.

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