Sens point toward mid-season gains
Year-ending success can set the stage for run toward playoffs
|Ryan Shannon and the Senators hope to use a five-game homestand to help solidify the playoff position they currently hold down in the Eastern Conference. It starts with tonight's matchup with the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).
They'll hit the season's midpoint a few hours before the calendar turns into a new year.
And with a stretch of three home games in four nights staring them in the face, the Ottawa Senators have a chance to set themselves up quite nicely heading into 2010. It all starts with tonight's matchup at Scotiabank Place with the red-hot Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200), who have suddenly crept within a point of the Senators in the Eastern Conference standings.
All of which should make for a rather festive atmopshere this evening in front of a packed house. Fewer than 50 tickets remain for this one, which will produce the Senators' fourth sellout of 2009-10. As is always the case with any Ottawa-Montreal affair, it figures to be a boisterous crowd right from the opening whistle.
"We'll have a full house tonight, which will be great," said Senators centre Mike Fisher. "We're looking forward to a tough game. It's tight in the standings and we need every win we can get. We want to get on a roll here. We need to put together a really good stretch here for a few games now and we've got to make sure we're playing our best."
Contrast that thought to the feeling a year ago, when the Senators turned their home building over to the 2009 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship and spent the holidays on a dreary eight-game road trip that essentially doomed their playoff hopes. Instead, they're currently 19-15-4 and standing sixth in the Eastern Conference, just in front of the hard-charging Habs (19-18-3), who have won four straight behind the sizzling goaltending of Jaroslav Halak.
But forward Alex Kovalev said the Senators – who didn't win their 19th game until Feb. 11 last season – are far from satisfied with their current position. They'd like to use the five-game homestand that begins tonight as a springboard toward a move further up the ladder. Ottawa hits the midpoint of its schedule on New Year's Eve, when the New York Islanders visit Scotiabank Place.
"We talk about being in a playoff spot, but (wanting to be) not somewhere in the bottom but somewhere in the middle before the first half of season," said Kovalev. "That’s what we’re trying to achieve, being in the middle. We have three games to go before the New Year and three games to go before the half-season (mark). We just have to get as many points as possible.
"We’re playing pretty well at home and we’re going to try to get all those two points."
Of course, the Senators task has been made more difficult by the loss of both captain Daniel Alfredsson and centre Jason Spezza to injuries. Alfredsson is expected to miss four to six weeks with a separated left shoulder, while a knee injury will likely keep Spezza on the shelf until after the Vancouver Olympics.
But Saturday's 3-2 shootout victory in Buffalo showed the kind of formula the Senators need to continue to prosper. The regulation-time goals came from Ryan Shannon (his first of the season) and Chris Neil, with Fisher and Kovalev adding the finishing touches in the shootout.
Added Fisher: "We want to approach it the same way we did going into Buffalo. We want to continue to be good at home and play a good solid team game. We’re missing a couple of key guys, so we can’t get too pretty. We’ve got to outwork teams, like we did against Buffalo, and we’ve got to do that again tonight against Montreal."
Goaltender Pascal Leclaire echoed a similar sentiment, saying "we've just got to keep things simple."
"We had a few scoring chances (on Saturday) and we buried them," said Leclaire, who'll make his third straight start tonight. "We kept things simple and we kept going to the net. They weren't the best-looking goals, but that's how you get them. It was the hard-working things and everybody showed up.
"If we keep all of these little things ... it's pretty simple stuff, but that's what we need to do."
Around the boards
Forward Nick Foligno (knee) continued skating on his own for a second straight day and is nearing a return to the lineup. Clouston said Sunday he believed Foligno was within "four or five days" of rejoining his teammates for game action ... Rookie defenceman Erik Karlsson will be a healthy scratch for the second straight game ... The Senators are also home Wednesday (Colorado Avalanche) and Thursday (Islanders). Both are 7 p.m. starts, with tickets still available for each game.