Ottawa 4-5-1; Toronto 7-3-0Season series:
Third of six meetings this season between Northeast Division rivals. Ottawa has claimed a pair of one-goal wins, 2-1 at the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 6 and 3-2 at Scotiabank Place on Nov. 17. Daniel Alfredsson's successful penalty shot proved decisive in the first game and Mike Fisher had a pair of goals, including the game-winner, in the second. Pascal Leclaire, who recorded both victories in net, remains out for the Senators with a broken jaw.
The ACC has finally started to feel like home for the Maple Leafs, who have won a season-high three straight in their arena and five of seven overall in December. After dropping eight in a row to start the season and 12 of its first 13, Toronto has rallied to within two points of ninth in the Eastern Conference and four points of eighth-place Montreal.
It had been a disappointing first season in Ottawa for veteran Alex Kovalev until Saturday, when he reached a career milestone with his 400th NHL goal. Kovalev's milestone goal – his second of the night – came on a power play with 3:04 remaining, giving the Senators a 3-2 lead, and he added an empty-netter for the hat trick in a 4-2 win over Carolina.
"It's always great to pass that point," said Kovalev, the 82nd player in NHL history to reach 400 goals. "I know it's been 14 or 15 (games since he's scored) or something like that, so I could have done that earlier but now I can forget about it."
The arrival of Phil Kessel
has turned things around for Toronto as a team, but Matt Stajan and Alexei Ponikarovsky have to be feeling particularly fortunate. Kessel and his linemates combined for eight points in Saturday's 6-3 win over Washington. Stajan already has 11 goals, just five off his career high, and Ponikarovsky is more than halfway to the career-high 23 goals he recorded last season.
"There is a lot of skill in this room too -- I think we have shown that -- and it's great to see the goals going in for us," Stajan told the Toronto Sun. "I know (he and Kessel) are getting a feel for each other, and having Poni on our line is good because he is a big body."
In addition to Kovalev, another player the Senators want to get going is Jason Spezza. He also scored against the Hurricanes and has two goals in his last four games. Fisher has a goal and two assists over a three-game points streak.Mikhail Grabovski
has three goals and five assists during a six-game points streak for the Leafs. Niklas Hagman has two goals and five assists during his own six-game points streak. Stajan has three goals and seven points in the last five games.Injury report:
In addition to Leclaire, who is expected to return by the end of the month, Ottawa forwards Chris Neil and Shean Donovan are out with knee injuries. … Toronto goalie Jonas Gustavsson
is recovering from a procedure to correct an elevated heart rate. Forward John Mitchell (knee) and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson
(hyperextended elbow) are on injured reserve. Defenseman Mike Van Ryn (knee surgery) is out for the season.
Brian Elliott, who has held the starting duties since Leclaire went down, is 1-1-1 with a 3.01 goals-against average career against the Leafs. For the season he's 8-6-3 with a 2.77 GAA and .902 save percentage.
The Senators have won consecutive games on the road after dropping seven straight prior to that. They're off to a fast start in this season's Battle of Ontario, but this has the makings of another tight game with the Leafs starting to hit their stride.