Timing is right for Sens, Caps
Showdown matches Eastern Conference's hottest two teams
|Chris Phillips and the Senators are confident in the game they'll bring to the ice Thursday night at Scotiabank Place against the Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).|
And with a victory in Montreal tonight, the Washington Capitals' winning streak will reach an epic 15 games. That would put the Eastern Conference's runaway leaders just two shy of the National Hockey League record, set by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1993.
So what makes the Ottawa Senators believe they could be the ones to block the high-flying Capitals from their date with history?
Lest we forget, the Senators have been on a bit of a run of their own, posting a 12-1-0 record over the last four weeks. That's allowed Ottawa to pull into a tie for top spot in the Northeast Division with the Buffalo Sabres, who they trailed by 13 points in early January.
In other words, Thursday night's showdown between the conference's two hottest teams (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200) couldn't be better timed for a Senators team that is already licking its chops about the challenge Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals will present.
"I guess you could say that," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston with a grin that suggested he's eagerly anticipating the opportunity to defuse the NHL's highest-scoring attack. "They're playing very well. They're playing with a lot of confidence, they've got a lot of weapons and some good goaltending. So it's going to be a tough challenge."
Added defenceman Chris Phillips: "Huge test for us tomorrow night. We're looking forward to it. Both teams are playing well right now and we're just looking for a good effort and trying to keep this thing going."
While it's no surprise that the Capitals sit on top of the conference standings, few would have predicted the Senators would have played their way into the East's upper echelon. But less than a week before the Olympic break, here they are, solidly in playoff position and still pushing hard to improve that standing.
"I don't know if a lot of other people thought we’d be where we are right now," admitted Clouston. "But we had — and have — a lot of confidence in our team. We know that if we work hard and we play the way we’re supposed to play, we’re a very good hockey club. We know that if we don’t, we’re an average team.
"We’ve had a lot of key injuries and I think we’ve responded very well. We’ve had guys in certain situations move up and play different roles and give us some good quality games. Now that we’ve got our guys back, we’ve been a pretty good team."
Phillips is more impressed with the Senators' resolve in finding ways to keep churning out the victories. With a 34-22-4 record and 72 points, they're a solid fifth in the East, nine points clear of the chasing pack.
"I like us a lot right now (and not) just because we’re in playoff contention and have done well lately," said Phillips. "It’s the way we’ve won. We're winning close games, hanging on to one-goal leads, coming back from being down goals … basically playoff hockey.
"Nobody has handed us wins for just showing up. We’ve had to work for everything. You learn how to win and you bring it with you going into the post-season."
Around the boards
Prior to Thursday's game, the Senators will honour Olympic participants from both teams with a special pre-game ceremony. Five Ottawa players are headed to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games: captain Daniel Alfredsson (Sweden), Anton Volchenkov (Russia), Jarkko Ruutu (Finland), and Milan Michalek and Filip Kuba (Czech Republic). Binghamton Senators forward Kaspars Daugavins will represent Latvia in the Olympic men's hockey tournament, which begins Tuesday ... Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for the game against the Capitals. It's also a Metro Family Night, with fans able to purchase four tickets, four drinks and four hotdogs for $99.