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The struggling Ottawa Senators hope a matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night can help them avoid equaling their longest losing streak in more than a decade.
The Senators (16-7-2), losers of six in a row, haven't endured a seven-game slide since Feb. 22-March 9, 1996, which came during the last season they failed to make the playoffs. Thanks to a 16-3-0 start, Ottawa has managed to stay atop the Northeast Division, but its lead has shrunk to four points as the losses have piled up.
Now, the Senators open a season-high five-game road trip, which is part of a difficult 15-game stretch in which they play 11 times away from home. They've dropped three of their last four road games after opening the season with five consecutive victories away from Scotiabank Place.
All of that appears to make Tampa Bay the perfect opponent for Ottawa to face Tuesday. The Senators are 20-4-0 with a tie in their last 25 games against the Lightning, including 9-2-0 with a draw at Tampa.
The Senators' skid reached six on Saturday, as they fell behind 4-0 midway through the second period and lost 5-2 to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
"We're a good hockey team that's a lot better than we're playing right now," Senators coach John Paddock said. "But we're not winning lots of battles in the corners either offensively or defensively."
Ottawa has been outscored 28-19 during the slide, and Martin Gerber's poor play in goal has been a big factor in that.
Gerber is 0-2-1 with a 5.95 goals-against average in his last four games after going 13-2-0 with a 1.85 GAA in his first 15. He's been pulled in twice during the slide, including Saturday after he gave up three goals on 12 shots in the first period. He was replaced by Ray Emery, who stopped 11 of 12 shots the rest of the way.
Gerber hasn't been much better at Tampa, losing all five of his starts there with a 3.77 GAA. That, combined with his recent poor performances, could land him on the bench Tuesday in favor of Emery, who's won two of three starts at the St. Pete Times Forum while posting a 1.67 GAA.
Emery, though, hasn't won since making 15 saves in a 6-4 victory over Atlanta on Nov. 1. In five games - three starts - since then, he's 0-3-1 with a 3.26 GAA.
Ottawa's losing streak can't be blamed on star forwards Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley. Alfredsson has eight points in the last five games to give him a team-leading 34. He has 13 points in his last 10 games against the Lightning.
Heatley, meanwhile, is on a seven-game point streak, his longest since closing out last season with an eight-game run. He's totaled six goals and four assists during that span, scoring a goal in all but one game, to give him 31 points on the season.
Heatley has five goals and seven assists in his last eight games against Tampa, including three goals and four assists in four road meetings.
The Lightning (11-13-2) had a six-game losing streak of their own going before a 4-1 win over Boston on Sunday ended the season high-tying slide.
"It's definitely a confidence-booster," said Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier, who had two goals and an assist.
Lecavalier is among the NHL leaders with 41 points, but he's been held to four assists in his last six games against Ottawa.
Johan Holmqvist hopes a 28-save performance against the Bruins will be the start of a turnaround after losing each of his previous five starts while posting a 3.44 GAA.
He won his only home start against Ottawa on Nov. 26, 2006, making 22 stops in a 3-1 victory. Holmqvist, though, allowed three goals on seven shots and was pulled in the first period of a 5-2 defeat to the Senators on Dec. 2 of that year.