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Banged-up Senators meet equally ailing Hurricanes

by Brian Hunter
SENATORS (22-19-4) at HURRICANES (12-24-7)

Last 10:
Ottawa 4-6-0; Carolina 4-5-1

Season series:
Second of four meetings this season. Alex Kovalev recorded the hat trick on Dec. 12 as the Senators beat the Hurricanes 4-2 in Ottawa. Kovalev's second goal, a power-play tally with 3:04 left in the third period, put the Senators in front to stay and was the 400th goal of his NHL career.

Big story:
Milan Michalek missed Ottawa's game against Florida on Saturday with an upper-body injury suffered after he was hit by Washington defenseman Mike Green on Thursday. It's the latest blow to an offense already missing captain Daniel Alfredsson and sniper Jason Spezza.

"It was our first line not too long ago," coach Cory Clouston said in pondering life without Michalek, Alfredsson and Spezza. "We need other guys to step up. We need to simplify our game even more and just keep working hard and being positive.

"We've got a foundation laid that, if we stick with our systems and capitalize on our chances, we'll be okay. But we've taken almost a hundred goals out of our lineup. But that's still no excuse. We've still got to make the most of what we've got."

Team Scope:

Senators: This marks the start of a five-game road trip for Ottawa, which has lost its last three games, managing only three goals in the process. That total includes a goose egg for Saturday night, when the Senators were blanked 3-0 by Tomas Vokoun and the Panthers.

And to add more injury to insult, forward Jesse Winchester left after hurting his right knee in a collision with Florida defenseman Keith Ballard, while defenseman Filip Kuba suffered an upper-body injury and also did not return.

"It's pouring (injuries)," forward Mike Fisher said. "There's nothing you can do about it. It's going to force us to really become a team and see what we have within our group and I'm confident we can rally around it."

Having alternated wins and losses over its last five games, Carolina will be shooting for its first two-game win streak since the beginning of December. Ray Whitney scored twice and Cam Ward finished with 29 saves as the Hurricanes, who have been battling their own rash of injuries, edged the visiting Avalanche 2-1 on Friday.

"We played hard, they came out banging us and our penalty killing did a great job," said Whitney, who scored his team-leading 12th and 13th goals. "Again, Cam played great in the first period and from there we got our legs going a little bit better. Under the circumstances we played good."

Who's hot:
Whitney has three goals and two assists in his last five games for Carolina. Linemate Matt Cullen has eight assists in his last six games.

Injury report:
Clouston said Michalek will miss at least the start of the road trip, and while the extent of the injuries to Winchester and Kuba weren't known late Saturday, it seems doubtful either will dress for the Senators on Sunday. Spezza (torn right MCL) and Alfredsson (separated left shoulder) are both on injured reserve.

Eric Staal remains on a leave of absence for the Hurricanes. Tuomo Ruutu sustained an upper-body injury Friday against the Avalanche and joins Erik Cole and Sergei Samsonov, who have missed time with similar afflictions. Scott Walker (shoulder), Chad LaRose (lower body) and Joe Corvo (leg) are all on injured reserve.

Stat pack:
Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour scored a goal against Nashville on Thursday and assisted on one of Whitney's goals against Colorado, giving the veteran points in back-to-back games for the first time since Oct. 21-23. … Zack Smith made his NHL debut for Ottawa on Saturday, taking 14 shifts for 7:55 of ice time and engaging in a scrap with Florida's Bryan Allen.

Puck drop:
This is the only game Sunday featuring Eastern Conference teams, so the Senators could ensure themselves of a little breathing room with a victory. They start play tied with the Canadiens for the last two playoff spots with 48 points. The ninth-place Flyers are just one point back.

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