Senators aiming to be homers
Long stretch at Scotiabank Place vital for strong season start
|Defenceman Chris Phillips believes the Senators need to take full advantage of an upcoming stretch in which they'll play 15 of 19 games at home (John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images).
Especially if you're the Ottawa Senators and you're staring at a schedule that, at first glance, seems perfectly designed to help this new-look crew get an early head start on feeling rather cozy in their Scotiabank Place digs.
Thursday night's home-opener against the New York Islanders (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) begins a run of four straight games at Scotiabank Place, which also includes two more tests this weekend – Saturday versus the Atlanta Thrashers (7 p.m., no TV, Team 1200) and a Thanksgiving Day beauty of a matchup with the Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
It doesn't end there. By the time the Senators head off to Newark, N.J., on Nov. 25 to face the Devils, they'll have concluded a stretch of 15-of-19 games at Scotiabank Place. Given that there's the inevitable payback for that coming further down the road in the form of a taxing road schedule, a strong start couldn't be more vital for this team.
"I think it's huge," said forward Shean Donovan, whose second-period goal got the Senators started on their way to a 2-1 victory over the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night in Toronto. "Points are just as important now as they are at the end of the season but right now, you've got to get confidence. We've got a lot of new guys and we've got to build something here.
"You've got to feed off your home crowd. We know they'll be loud and it'll be lots of fun in the building, and we're happy to be back here playing in front of them."
Added defenceman Chris Phillips: "When you sit down and look at it, with all those home games ... you know that later on in the year, you're going to be playing a lot on the road. So you've got to take advantage of that, just to get off to a good start in the season. Not to give you a cushion to sit on, but just to give you confidence going into the second half of the season."
It was a spirited bunch of Senators that hit the ice for practice the morning after their win at the Air Canada Centre. It wasn't the prettiest of victories, with Ottawa needing to hold on at the end after building a 2-0 lead in the second period. But it was just the shot of energy a short-handed team needed after opening the season with a 5-2 road loss to the New York Rangers.
"It was a good test for us," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "We got a little anxious toward the end and had a few breakdowns, but it's good to be involved in those situations so the next time, you're a little more poised. It just gives you that experience and kind of puts you into the fire.
"I liked how we bent but we didn't break and (goaltender) Pascal (Leclaire) played very well for us when we needed him."
Perhaps just as important, the Senators found a way to scratch out a one-goal win in a low-scoring game on the road.
"You'd love to score more goals and make it easier when it comes down to the final minutes," said Phillips. "But to win those one-goal games and to learn how to win those games... in the second half of the season and going into the post-season, it seems like every game is like that. To win those ones now is really important for this team."
Around the boards
Forward Milan Michalek, who took a high stick to the face from Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn on the play that led to Daniel Alfredsson's game-winning goal on a penalty shot, paid a late-night visit to the dentist when he got back to Ottawa. But he still wore a smile Wednesday morning about it all. "He just filed it and I have to go see him again next week," said Michalek. "Everything is good now. We won and it's all good." ... Leclaire, whose 2008-09 season was cut short by ankle surgery, earned his first goaltending win as a Senator on Tuesday night and his first since Nov. 14, 2008. Reason enough to keep the game puck that was spotted in his dressing room stall this morning. "Especially because it's been a long layoff," he said. "It was a fun night. This one, I'll keep for sure." ... Centre Jason Spezza skipped practice today to rest "some bumps and bruises" but Clouston said "he'll be ready for tomorrow." ... Forward Jesse Winchester practised with the team today and Clouston said he's "real close" to returning to game action ... Expect goaltender Brian Elliott to start one of the weekend games ... Tickets are still available for all three games this weekend. Saturday's matchup with the Thrashers is also a Metro Family Night game.