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After overcoming a slow start, the Ottawa Senators hope their impressive run entering the All-Star break will carry over to the second half of the season.
The strong play of Dany Heatley before the break and the impending return of Jason Spezza has Ottawa feeling optimistic about those chances as the team comes off a six-day layoff by hosting the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
The Senators (28-20-2), who won the Northeast Division last season, were one of the league's bigger disappointments early this season as they got out to a 6-10-1 start.
They couldn't find much consistency through the first 2 1/2 months of the season and were under .500 well into December. Ottawa, though, won 11 of its final 14 games before the break, closing the stretch with a 3-0 win over Boston (22-20-4) last Saturday.
Heatley, who had a goal and two assists in Wednesday's All-Star game, scored two goals against the Bruins to extend his point streak against them to seven games.
Heatley was a big part of the team's offensive surge before the break. The right wing, who leads the team with 30 goals and 65 points, ended the first half with a seven-game point streak during which he had seven goals and eight assists. That run doesn't even include a hat trick he had in a 6-3 win over Eastern Conference-leading Buffalo on Jan. 3.
The Senators are scoring 3.4 goals per game - third-highest in the NHL - and that average was up to 4.0 goals during the last 14 games.
Despite Ottawa's momentum, coach Bryan Murray said the team welcomed the time off.
"I think some bodies need to be rested up. There's no question we've got some bumps and bruises and a few guys that are sick," Murray said. "Mentally too, just to get away from the everyday push, I think it's a chance for them to get away, take a breath and come back and know there's 32 games left and play accordingly."
Few players probably welcomed the break more than Spezza, Heatley's linemate. The center hasn't played since Dec. 21 because of a knee injury, but hopes to return Saturday. Despite missing 14 games this season, he is second on the team in goals (19) and third in points (44).
"To practice with the guys, joke around, you feel like you're more involved," Spezza told the team's official Web site. "It will be nice to get in three games in four nights and see how (the knee) feels."
Ottawa visits Montreal on Monday before hosting Washington on Tuesday.
This is the sixth of eight meetings between these teams this season. After losing the first three, the Senators have won the last two games convincingly, outscoring Boston 8-2.
The Bruins begin the second half trying to find some momentum after a miserable 3-7-1 stretch before the break that dropped them into last place in the Northeast. The team allowed an average of 4.6 goals per game during that slump, but did manage to split its last four games.
One of the few bright spots in the first half was the production of leading scorer Marc Savard. Savard was inconsistent early in the season, but had six goals and eight assists in the team's last eight games.
While Savard was improving before the break, Patrice Bergeron continued to struggle. Bergeron, who is second on the team in points (47) and third in goals (15), has just two goals in the last 11 games.
Ten of Boston's first 15 games after the break are on the road, where the Bruins have lost five in a row.