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Finally home again, Canucks challenge Senators

by Matthew Mankiewich
SENATORS (37-26-5) at CANUCKS (41-23-3)

Last 10 -- Ottawa 4-5-1; Vancouver 6-3-1

Season series -- The Canucks and the Senators have met once already on Feb. 4, a 3-1 contest in Scotiabank Place which extended Ottawa's season-restoring winning streak to 11 in a row. At the time, just about everything was working for the Sens. Jason Spezza scored a goal in his eighth straight game and Brian Elliott made 29 saves for his ninth win in a row, breaking his own team record.

Big story --
Johnny Canuck, we hardly knew ye. It's been a long time since the Vancouver fans have seen their team in the home blue, finally returning to once-again-named GM Place after an NHL-record 14-game road trip. More realistically, it was divided into eight- and six-game stretches with a two-week Olympic break sandwiched in between, which only served to extend it to just about a month and a half. The Canucks haven't suffered too much from the lack of home cooking, going 8-5-1 over the stretch, but the welcome home will be warm, especially for the seven Olympians on the team.

Team scope:

Senators --
Little did the Senators know, but that last meeting with the Canucks would be the finale of the 11-game streak. They're 4-5-1 since, 1-3-1 in their last five. The streak served its purpose, however, vaulting the Sens to the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference where they're within striking distance of the Devils for the fourth playoff spot and Northeast Division leader Buffalo for the third. This game is the last of a three-game swing through western Canada, with the obligatory win in Edmonton followed by a 2-0 blanking in Calgary.

They outshot the Flames 33-25 but had just four shots on goal in the first period and were 0-for-5 on the power play.

"It's always a concern when you don't score, of course, but I'm not going to criticize any of our effort," coach Cory Clouston said. "We had the chances. We had the opportunities. (Peter) Regin hit a post. (Matt) Cullen hit a post. We had a goal disallowed. Sometimes those things happen."

Hopefully not too often, as nine of the Sens' remaining 14 games are on the road, where they've lost four of their last six.

Canucks --
"There were days when you woke up in another hotel and wondered 'Where are we now?' before you get it together a little bit," center Ryan Kesler told the Canucks' official Web site.

"The last six we've played here on the other end of the Games, that hasn't been as bad … but those first eight were real tough. They took forever."

Forever ends Saturday night as Kesler and company take the ice to a hero's welcome, especially Roberto Luongo, who manned the nets for Team Canada's gold-medal run in the Olympics two weeks hence.

Luongo has continued to win, going 3-1-0 since returning to NHL action, but his Olympic-sharpened teammates have helped offset a 4.20 goals-against average.

"We've got confidence we can score goals and come back in any game," said Alexandre Burrows, who scored seven times on the trip. That was good enough to be dropped to the second line, because Mikael Samuelsson scored 10 goals on the trip for a career-high 28 and earned a spot on a line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

Who's hot --
As hot as Samuelsson has been, he was left off the Swedish national team this year after playing with the Sedin brothers in 2006.

"It's fun now reading the Swedish papers … for us who believe in him and think he should have been on the team," Daniel said.

Kesler has an 11-game points streak with five goals and eight assists while the man charged with stopping him and the rest of the Canucks arsenal, Brian Elliott, is 4-4-0 since beating the Canucks in Ottawa.

Injury report --
Canucks winger Steve Bernier will be out the next 3-4 weeks with a sports hernia. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa has been cleared to play after surgery to repair left ankle tendons that were severed by a skate on Dec. 29.

Clouston announced at practice Friday that Senators forward Chris Kelly (lower body) is probable for Saturday night. Forward Nick Foligno (broken right fibula) and D-man Filip Kuba (lower body) are making progress and should be at practice Monday in Ottawa.

Stat pack -- Senators defenseman Anton Volchenkov reached a career milestone Thursday night, blocking his 1,000th career shot since the NHL started recording the stat in the 2005-06 season. The Canucks were 4-4 in the eight-game road stretch before the break and went 4-1-1 in the six games after. They came back to win three times trailing after two periods in that stretch.

Puck drop -- "You might become a little sick and tired of being with one another for that long," -- Canucks coach Alain Vigneault on whether his team became closer after so much time on the road.

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