Hockey Day a record day for Sens?
More at stake against Habs on Saturday than team streak mark
|Forwards Chris Neil (left) and Shean Donovan hand Senators jerseys to a pair of players from the Cumberland Jr. Barons minor bantam B team, which was invited to join the Sens for a practice at the Bell Sensplex earlier today as part of Hockey Day in Canada activities (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).
Eight isn't enough for the Ottawa Senators.
But even as they stand on the brink of extending their current winning streak to a franchise-record nine games, this is still a group that insists on maintaining the same even keel that has helped turn them into one of the National Hockey League's hottest teams.
In the Senators' minds, the two points they'd earn from beating the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday afternoon at Scotiabank Place (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) matter the most of all.
"It would be great, for sure," Senators centre Mike Fisher said earlier today when asked about the prospect of going where no Senators team has before them in terms of consecutive wins. "But the most important thing is we’re moving up the standings and that playoff spot. It would be nice to get (a win) tomorrow, for sure."
Added red-hot goaltender Brian Elliott: "If that happens, that's fine. That's our goal, to win the next game, but we're not focusing on the record at all."
When the Senators and Canadiens last faced each other on Jan. 16 in Montreal, they shared seventh spot in the Eastern Conference with 50 points in 48 games. But Ottawa won that one behind Binghamton callup Mike Brodeur and has run off another six straight victories with Elliott between the pipes. Now the gap between fifth-place Ottawa (30-21-4) and 10th-place Montreal (25-25-5) has widened to nine points.
The Habs managed just a single goal in back-to-back road losses to the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this week, while Ottawa has outscored its foes 27-8 during its current eight-game hot streak. But the Senators expect a record-setting win won't come easily against what figures to be a hungry and desperate Northeast Division rival.
"There are no easy games from here on in. We know that," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "We’re going to be playing against opponents that are fighting for playoff spots – and so are we – so we don’t take anything for granted."
But the mood is definitely more upbeat in the Senators dressing room these days. A miserable five-game losing streak earlier this month and a seemingly endless rash of injuries are distant memories now. But even in the lowest moments, Clouston kept reminding his team that it was on the verge of breaking into the conference's upper echelon.
Back-to-back wins over the New Jersey Devils (3-0) and Pittsburgh Penguins (4-1) this week offer further evidence that day may well be just around the corner – if it hasn't arrived already.
"Sometimes, things look worse than they are," said Fisher. "It's just a matter of believing in each other. Right now, everybody is chipping in, we're getting (healthy) bodies back and we're getting good goaltending. We're getting a lot of different things that are helping us win and we're enjoying it.
And even if a record-setting victory is earned Saturday afternoon, the Senators know it's just another small step on the road to even bigger things.
"Things are going great now, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us," said Fisher. "We’ve got lots to improve on and get better if we want to be ready for the playoffs. We’ve still got lots to do."
Leclaire returns to ice with Sens
Goaltender Pascal Leclaire joined his teammates for practice earlier today at the Bell Sensplex for the first time since suffering a concussion when hit by a shot during the pre-game skate prior to the Jan. 14 game against the Rangers in New York.
"It was good, it was fun," Leclaire said afterward. "The last couple of days, I skated by myself and it felt good enough, so I wanted to try it. It’s just fun being around the guys. They’re doing so well right now and when you see it from the outside, you’re really excited to come back."
While Clouston suggested his No. 1 goaltender is "probably a good week" away from being available for game duty, Leclaire won't commit to an exact timetable yet.
"We’ll take it day by day and, hopefully, it's probably sooner rather than later," he said. "I don’t want to get into times and stuff like that. But today was a good step and we’ll take it from there."
Around the boards
As part of Hockey Day in Canada celebrations, the Senators welcomed the Cumberland Jr. Grads minor bantam B team to their practice at the Bell Sensplex. Each Grads player received a personalized Sens jersey from an Ottawa player, with the Senators getting Hockey Day in Canada toques in return. On such a frosty day, it became required attire by the time the Sens dashed through the bitter cold back into Scotiabank Place ... Fewer than 50 tickets remain for tomorrow's game, which leads off the traditional Hockey Day tripleheader on CBC.