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SENATORS (29-21-4) at PENGUINS (33-20-1)
Last 10 -- Senators 7-3-0; Penguins 6-4-0.
Season series -- This is the last of four meetings, with Pittsburgh winning two of the first three. On Oct. 12, Tyler Kennedy scored twice and Marc-Andre Fleury made 30 saves to lead the Penguins to a 4-1 road win. On Nov. 19, defenceman Chris Phillips scored twice in his 800th regular-season game and Pascal Leclaire made 25 saves in Ottawa's 6-2 home win. Phillips scored goals 2:03 apart in the third to put Ottawa up 5-1 and chase Fleury. On Dec. 23, Evgeni Malkin recorded his fourth career hat trick and Guerin added two goals and two assists in Pittsburgh's 8-2 home win.
Big story -- It wasn't that long ago that the Senators were missing their two biggest guns in Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, while No. 1 goalie Pascal Leclaire had been in and out of the lineup with injury. The Sens continued to tread water during their absence, but now have Alfredsson and Spezza back and have won seven in a row to close in on Buffalo for first place in the Northeast.
"I keep going back to the games even before that, when we were losing (five straight)," head coach Cory Clouston said. "We still played hard, we worked hard and now, when you bring in Alfredsson, (Milan) Michalek and Spezza, you're basically inserting your whole first line (back into the lineup). So it does give us options offensively.
"Our power play has been better as of late and it's no coincidence that when you add those type of players to your power play, it's going to improve. I liked our work ethic before, I liked our execution … we just weren't coming away with wins."
Senators -- Ottawa is hitting the road for one game before returning home to host Montreal on Saturday (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). In their last game on Tuesday, the Senators shut out the Devils 3-0 at Scotiabank PlaceGoalie Brian Elliott made 24 saves for his first shutout of the season and Ottawa received goals from Alex Kovalev, Michalek and Spezza to drive Devils goalie Martin Brodeur from the net after two periods. It was Ottawa's first win against New Jersey since Oct. 27, 2007.
"We lost three games against them earlier this season, so it was nice to get three goals and it was nice to see (Brodeur) get out," Michalek said. "They probably wanted to rest him, but it was nice to see."
The Senators' seven-game winning streak is their longest since they won eight in a row from Oct. 13-Nov. 6, 2007.
Penguins -- This is the start of a three-game homestand. On Monday, Pittsburgh visited the Rangers and earned a 4-2 victory at Madison Square Garden.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury played his first game since Jan. 14 because of a broken finger. He made 28 saves for his 26th win of the season. "(The finger) was pretty good, it didn't feel bad at all," Fleury said. "It was pretty close (to normal).
Winger Chris Conner was called up from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton earlier in the day to replace Bill Guerin (day-to-day with undisclosed injury) in the lineup. He scored twice to lead the attack, and Malkin and Pascal Dupuis (empty net) added goals.
"It's definitely up there," Conner said of the game. "I'm not going to lie, it's been fun. It's probably right there with the debut and maybe my first goal. It's awesome. It was definitely a blast, a great day."
Conner, who had seven goals in 71 games with Dallas from 2006-09, was returned to the AHL on Tuesday morning, then recalled on Wednesday.
Who's hot -- For the Senators, Alexei Kovalev has two goals and six assists in seven games, Alfredsson has five goals and five assists in six games, Peter Regin has two goals and three assists in four games, and Phillips has two goals and an assist in six games. For the Penguins, Malkin has five goals and five assists in five games, Sidney Crosby has three goals and seven assists in four games, Ruslan Fedotenko has four assists in three games, Pascal Dupuis has three goals and five assists in eight games, and Sergei Gonchar has a goal and three assists in two games.
Injury report -- For the Senators, Leclaire (concussion) and Jesse Winchester (knee) are on injured reserve. For the Penguins, Chris Kunitz (abdominal surgery) is on injured reserve and Alex Goligoski (undisclosed), Guerin (undisclosed) and Maxime Talbot (lower body) are day-to-day.
Stat pack -- Gonchar is one goal away from 200 in his career … Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma became the eighth-fastest coach to reach 50 wins in NHL history following a 2-1 victory against Philadelphia on Sunday. Bylsma reached career win No. 50 in his 78th game (50-23-5), trailing only Tom Johnson (67), Bep Guidolin (69), Pat Burns (75), Todd McLellan (76), Mike Keenan (77), Pat Quinn (77) and Pete Green (77) … The Penguins have five hat tricks this season, already matching last season's total. Those posting three goals are Crosby (Oct. 28 vs. Montreal, Nov. 28 vs. N.Y. Rangers), Malkin (Dec. 23 vs. Ottawa, Jan. 19 vs. NY Islanders) and Mike Rupp (Nov. 30 at N.Y. Rangers) … Elliott was named the NHL's first star of the week for Jan. 18-24. He won all four of his starts while allowing five goals and making 110 saves.
Puck drop -- "We know it’s a dogfight (in the East). You look at the standings and I don’t think there’s much room for error. There’s not too many points separating us from being out of a playoff spot. We know all the points count right now and it’s just a matter of continuing to play the way we are right now (and) giving ourselves a chance to win." -- Nick Foligno of the Senators.
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