GAME: Ottawa Senators (21-10-5-3) at Toronto Maple Leafs (23-8-8-3). TIME
: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
Nobody has been able to slow down the Ottawa Senators for more than a month.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will try to do it without numerous regulars.
The surging Senators, unbeaten in 10 straight, will try to close the gap in the Northeast Division when they take on the undermanned Maple Leafs in the opener of a four-game road trip.
Ottawa has been the NHL's hottest team since the start of December, going 12-2-3 to climb within seven points of Toronto for first place in the Northeast.
The Senators, 8-0-2 during their run, haven't gone 11 games without a loss since a 9-0-2 run from Oct. 25-Nov. 20, 2001.
A 5-2 victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday ended a stretch where Ottawa played 10 of 12 games at home.
"The first month and a half we didn't play well at home, and if you want to be on top you've got to play well at home," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "It was important for us when we had this stretch to make the most of it. We pushed each other."
The line of Alfredsson, Peter Schaefer and Todd White combined for five points Tuesday, giving the trio 12 goals and 15 assists during the 10-game streak.
"I think all of us are playing better as a line," Alfredsson said. "We're cycling the puck better and it's a line that complements each other."
Although Patrick Lalime is clearly Ottawa's No. 1 goaltender, the team doesn't lose anything when Martin Prusek plays. Prusek made 27 saves Tuesday in a surprise start after Lalime was sidelined by back spasms. Prusek has allowed just 10 goals in winning seven of his last eight starts.
Ottawa should be an even stronger team Thursday when right wing Martin Havlat returns from a two-game suspension.
Defenceman Bryan McCabe scored twice in the third period Tuesday, rallying the Maple Leafs to a 2-1 victory over visiting Nashville.
It was the second straight win following a four-game winless streak for Toronto, which played without starting goalie Ed Belfour and forwards Owen Nolan, Alexander Mogilny and Robert Reichel.
Toronto's injury list will be even longer Thursday.
Besides Belfour, Nolan, Mogilny and Reichel, captain and leading scorer Mats Sundin and defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Wade Belak will not play against Ottawa.
Sundin will serve a one-game suspension for throwing his stick into the stands Tuesday. Kaberle injured his shoulder and is listed as day-to-day along with Belak, who injured his knee.
"We have had guys step in and do the job because of injury," goalie Trevor Kidd said. "We don't seem to miss a beat, and I'm stepping in for Eddie for right now."
STANDINGS (through Jan. 6): Senators - 50 points, 2nd place, 7 PB, Northeast Division. Maple Leafs - 57 points, 1st place, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Senators - Marian Hossa, 18 goals, 23 assists and 41 points; Chris Neil, 87 PIM. Maple Leafs - Sundin and Gary Roberts, 16 goals; Sundin, 27 assists and 43 points; Tie Domi and Belak, 81 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 6): Senators - Power play: 21.9 percent (39 for 178), 3rd in NHL. Penalty killing: 87.6 percent (149 for 170), 2nd. Maple Leafs - Power play: 18.5 percent (37 for 200), 7th. Penalty killing: 85.4 percent (176 for 206), 12th.
GOALTENDERS: Senators - Lalime (13-10-4, 2 SO, 2.10 GAA); Prusek (7-3-1, 2, 1.88). Maple Leafs - Belfour (18-11-5, 4, 2.29); Kidd (3-0-1, 1, 1.89).
SEASON SERIES: Maple Leafs, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 29; Maple Leafs, 2-1. At Ottawa, McCabe scored during a two-man advantage late in the second period, and Belfour made 24 saves for Toronto.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Senators - 8-3-2-1 on the road; Maple Leafs - 11-2-2-2 at home.