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Jets begin long home stretch by facing Senators

by Brian Hunter
SENATORS (11-10-2) at JETS (9-10-4)


Last 10:
Ottawa 4-4-2; Winnipeg 4-4-2

Season series:
Second of four meetings. Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza scored in the second period to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead, and Michalek later added an empty-netter as Ottawa claimed a 4-1 win at Scotiabank Place on Oct. 20. Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson also tallied, while Dustin Byfuglien had the lone goal for the Jets.

Big story: Winnipeg survived playing 15 of its first 23 games away from the MTS Centre fairly well -- although the Jets sit 13th in the Eastern Conference standings beginning play Tuesday, a win against the Senators would get them back to .500 and a few more points could get them right back in the top eight. And the time to make hay has definitely arrived, as Winnipeg plays 11 of its next 12 games on home ice leading up to the Christmas break.

Team Scope:

It's been a season of streaks for Ottawa, which started out losing five of six, then won six straight, then lost five in a row, then won its next three. After that the Senators lost their next two, so keeping that mini-skid from turning into a full-blown one was a high priority. Spezza had a key role in accomplishing that Sunday, scoring the team's first two goals in a 4-3 victory over the Hurricanes. His second goal, a power-play strike late in the first period, put Ottawa in front to stay and was also his 200th career goal. David Rundblad added his first NHL goal and Zack Smith netted the game-winner.

"It's been a while since I scored, so they usually come in bunches for me," said Spezza, who hadn't found the net since Oct. 29. "It was nice to get my 200th out of the way. It's obviously a big accomplishment and something to be proud of, so hopefully there's more to come."

Jets: After going 1-1-1 on its latest road trip, Winnipeg finally gets to settle in at the MTS Centre, where it is 5-3-0 and has won three straight. In fact, the Jets scored 15 goals in sweeping a recent homestand from the Lightning, Capitals and Flyers -- all playoff teams a season ago. They played the defending Stanley Cup champions tough in Boston on Saturday, getting first-period goals from Evander Kane and Byfuglien 39 seconds apart, but the Bruins rallied to hand them a 4-2 defeat, their first regulation loss in six games.

"They know how to play those close games. It's a very tough team to play against," said goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 32 of 35 shots. "We had a chance to win. We scored the first two goals.

"In the second we stopped playing at all and gave them the chance to come back and tie the game and overall it wasn't that bad a game -- on the road, against Boston, we did a pretty good job. It's all the little details and we got to be better."

Who's hot:
Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson continues to pile up the assists, with eight in as many games. He has a League-leading 20 this season. Fellow blueliner Sergei Gonchar has 2 goals and 5 assists in his last seven games. … Kane has goals in consecutive games. He has 5 goals in the Jets' last six games. Bryan Little has 4 goals in as many games. Andrew Ladd has 5 goals in his last eight games.

Injury report:
Ottawa has defenseman Matt Carkner (knee) and forwards Peter Regin (shoulder) and Chris Neil (ankle) on injured reserve. … Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey (lower body) is day-to-day. Defensemen Derek Meech (lower body), Tobias Enstrom (collarbone), Randy Jones (ankle) and Brett Festerling (upper body) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack:
Gonchar drew the primary assist on both of Spezza's goals, giving him 516 for his career. … Kyle Wellwood qualifies as the Jets' top candidate for the Lady Byng Trophy -- he leads the team in scoring with 17 points and has just 2 penalty minutes in 23 games.

Puck drop: "If you had told me we were one game below .500 at this point, with the road schedule we've had, I would rather not be, but we've played well and the growth is good for me," Jets coach Claude Noel told the Winnipeg Sun.

"I think if I asked our team if we think we can do better here over the next little while, knowing the teams that we've played against, how we need to do and the growth that needs to take place, they'd all say to a man that yeah, we can have success. And that's the important thing for us. For me, I see a lot of upside."

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