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Craig Hartsburg didn't get off to the start he hoped for in his first season as coach of the Ottawa Senators. Barry Melrose had an even less auspicious beginning to his tenure on the Tampa Bay Lightning bench.
Both coaches, however, appear to be making progress.
The Lightning host the Senators on Saturday night in a matchup between teams looking for their third straight win following slow starts.
Over the summer, Hartsburg took over an Ottawa team that had made 11 straight playoff appearances with six 100-point seasons in that stretch. The Senators (4-5-1) didn't look like postseason contenders in Hartsburg's first three weeks, however, going 2-5-1.
They've rebounded with back-to-back wins, including a 2-1 victory over Florida on Thursday night in which they trailed before Dany Heatley's power-play goal at the 5:55 mark of the third period. Chris Kelly scored the game-winner less than five minutes later.
"It makes a big difference," said captain Daniel Alfredsson, who signed a four-year contract extension earlier in the day. "I'm really going to enjoy dinner tonight, I can tell you that, coming back the way we did.
"We played a strong third period, which is very encouraging. It was a little bit ugly, but a very big win for us."
Ottawa has won two of three on a four-game road trip that concludes Saturday.
"We wanted to come out on the road and grab some points," Heatley said. "Two out of three is pretty good so far, and we'd like to get back to .500 before we get home."
That could be a challenge against a Lightning team that's seen similar improvement in its first month under Melrose. Tampa Bay (3-3-3) went 0-2-3 before getting Melrose his first win since 1995 on Oct. 21. The Lightning followed that up with a loss to San Jose, but have won their last two games by a combined 8-4.
"We're skating, we're first on the puck, and we're aggressive," forward Vincent Lecavalier said after a 5-2 road victory over Buffalo on Thursday night. "We scored five, and I thought we could have scored more."
That's saying something for a team that had only 11 goals during its 1-3-3 start.
"We really played our best game," said rookie forward Steven Stamkos, who scored the first two goals of his career in his ninth game. "We've been doing things the last few games that we weren't doing in the beginning of the season."
Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith, who ranks among league leaders with a 2.11 goals-against average in six games, gave up three goals on 19 shots to lose his only previous start against Ottawa last Dec. 7.
Senators goalie Alex Auld, not far behind Smith with a 2.21 GAA, is 2-1-0 with a 3.34 GAA lifetime against the Lightning.
Ottawa has dominated Tampa Bay over the last decade, going 29-8-1 with two ties in the series since the 1997-98 season. The Senators, who have recorded at least one point in seven of their last eight games in St. Petersburg, went 2-1-1 against the Lightning last season.
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