Senators eager to get started down home stretch
With all-star break now behind them, Ottawa shifts focus to crucial final 30 games
|Jason Spezza and the Senators need to quickly put NHL All-Star Weekend behind them, with a tough road test at Boston awaiting them in their first game after the all-star break (Getty Images).
And if the reality of the resumption of the league's regular schedule hasn't quite hit them yet, the Senators are sure to feel it in a little more than 24 hours. That's when Ottawa faces off against the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on Tuesday night (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) to kick off the final stretch of this campaign.
While their home building undergoes a transformation from 2012 all-star host venue to the place where they'll play 17 of their final 30 games this season, the Senators hit the road for the ninth time in their last 10 outings. A five-game homestand is on tap starting Friday against the New York Islanders (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200), but there's one not-so-small road hurdle to take care of first.
"It's the best team in the league we play tomorrow," said Jason Spezza, one of four Senators who took part in Sunday's 2012 Tim Hortons All-Star Game at Scotiabank Place. "It would be nice to get a win. We have 11 games this month, a lighter load, so it's important that we try to get back on the winning track as quick as possible.
"We’ve really got to use this month as a good conditioning month. Having some good practices and getting some wins will hopefully springboard us into a good position going into March."
The Senators had won five straight on the road before falling to the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes just before the break. While Ottawa (27-19-6) holds down sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, its margin over the ninth-place Toronto Maple Leafs has dwindled to five points. Meaning the Senators have to put the skid behind them as quickly as possible.
"It’s easy to forget and we have to forget," Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean said following practice at the Bell Sensplex earlier today. "I felt that stretch from (Jan. 10-24) was going to be the hardest part of our season and was going to be a real test of not only our mental strength, but of the conditioning of our team and the foundation of our team.
"The test that we put ourselves through … no, we didn’t get any points out of (the last three games), but at the same time I thought it was a good evaluation of our team and how far we’ve come and the condition level of our team. We have to continue to just get a little better every day."
Added Spezza: "Those games are behind us. We look at it as we had a good road trip and we came out on the positive end. If you would have talked to us at the start of the trip, we probably would have taken our (5-3-0) record. We set the bar real high by winning all the games early on, but if you take it as a whole, it was a successful road trip and a tough hurdle for us.
There is also the matter of any potential rust from all-star break — for all but five players, that is (forward Colin Greening took part in Saturday's Molson NHL All-Star Skills Competition). Goaltender Craig Anderson, who's started every game for the Senators since Dec. 31 and will be back between the pipes again Tuesday, said everyone needs to be firing on all cylinders right away.
"We’ve just got to make sure we take care of business," he said. "You don’t want to end on the wrong foot (before the all-star break) and you don’t want to start on the wrong foot (after it). We’ve got a job to do here, so let’s get back on the horse and get ready to play. The results will come if we play the way we can."
Winchester back on the ice
Senators forward Jesse Winchester, who's been sidelined since Dec. 20 with a concussion, practised with the team today and afterward declared he's optimistic about a return to the lineup soon.
"I was excited to be back," he said. "It wasn't too, too hard of a practice, so it was nice to get back into it. I've been working pretty hard in the gym and I've progressed pretty well, so with the little (all-star) break, I felt rested and re-energized and felt pretty darned good on the ice."
Winchester isn't ready yet to set a date for his return — "I had a couple of dates that already passed," he said with a grin — but admitted the symptoms he'd been suffering have largely passed and "I've been feeling good off the ice for a while." He called it the most frustrating injury he's had to deal with in his four-year NHL career.
"For awhile, I haven’t be able to do anything. I’m not really used to that," he said. "Taking a month off is not really in my character, even in the summer. You don’t know when it’s going to be totally better, so it’s hard to prepare. With a different injury, you know how to attack it and get better. But I feel way lighter now and I feel happy and excited to get going."
Around the boards
While Spezza and Greening practised with the team today, fellow all-stars Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek were given the day off. While Alfredsson was the most in-demand man of all-star weekend, MacLean doubts fatigue will impair his play. "I believe that he is probably energized by all the excitement that he had on the weekend," said MacLean. "It was great to see the tribute that he got from the fans and I think it's going to be a jumpstart for him." ... Senators centre Peter Regin had surgery on his left shoulder last week and faces a recovery time of 4-6 months, MacLean said. It's the second straight year that the Denmark native has undergone a procedure on that same shoulder ... CBC reports Sunday's all-star game and Saturday's skills competition at Scotiabank Place produced record average television audiences of 2.461 million and 2.468 million, respectively. They're the highest all-star numbers since metered audience measurement began in 1989-90 ... Binghamton Senators forward Corey Locke and defenceman Mark Borowiecki are in Atlantic City, N.J., tonight for the annual AHL All-Star Classic.