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Crucial points at stake as Jets welcome in Senators

by Brian Hunter

SENATORS (27-25-11) at JETS (30-27-7)


Last 10: Ottawa 4-5-1; Winnipeg 5-3-2

Season series: This is the final game between the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets. Zack Smith and Clarke MacArthur scored in the third period to lead the Senators to a 4-3 victory on Jan. 2 at Canadian Tire Centre.

Big story: Each team sits just outside of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot in its respective conference but has lost two in a row, with the Senators having dropped four of five.

Team Scope:

Senators: This is the finale of a four-game road trip for Ottawa, which then plays 11 of its final 18 at home. The Senators started out by beating the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 in the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic but dropped consecutive games to the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, teams that won't make the playoffs in the Western Conference.

Ironically, the Senators were done in against the Oilers by forward Ales Hemsky, whom they proceeded to acquire via trade. Hemsky's first game with Ottawa after playing the first 652 of his career with Edmonton was a 4-1 loss Wednesday in Calgary. Hemsky had two shots and played on a line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek.

"It stings," Spezza told the Ottawa Citizen of the losses, "but we have to play the games and we have to win and we have to string some together, and that only starts by winning the next one."

Craig Anderson will start in goal, Jared Cowen takes the place of Patrick Wiercioch on defense, and Matt Kassian will dress in place of injured forward Clarke MacArthur.

The Senators held a demanding 81-minute practice Friday that reportedly included a fight between Cowen and forward Chris Neil.

Jets: Nine wins in its first 11 games under new coach Paul Maurice got Winnipeg right back into the race, but the Jets are a pedestrian 2-2-2 since. That's not quite good enough for a team that had a lot of ground to make up when Maurice took over.

What also won't help the Jets in their bid to bring postseason hockey back to Winnipeg is losing games at MTS Centre. They've dropped the first two of a three-game homestand and need to start taking advantage of a stretch where six of the next eight are in their building. After that, the Jets go on a five-game road trip and play seven of their final 10 away from home.

"There's a gear change usually after the Olympic break. We're in a different kind of game that's going to be played now," Maurice said in the Winnipeg Sun. "… The fact we're chasing, it hurts more every time you lose. They're all played like this now."

Who's hot: Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson has four goals and two assists in the past seven games. … Jets forward Olli Jokinen has two goals and one assist during a three-game point streak.

Injury report: MacArthur (hand) was sent to Ottawa for evaluation after being injured in the loss at Calgary. … Winnipeg forward Mark Scheifele (knee) is likely out for the rest of the season. Defenseman Grant Clitsome (back) is out for the season. Forward James Wright (ankle) is out indefinitely. Forward Chris Thorburn (upper body) is day-to-day.

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