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Senators host Bruins in Northeast Division rivalry

by David Kalan

BRUINS (5-2-0) at SENATORS (4-5-1)


Season series --
This is the first meeting of the season for the Northeast Division rivals. Boston took four of six from Ottawa a year ago, but dropped the most recent clash, a 2-1 Sens victory at TD Garden on Jan. 23.

Big story --
With big expectations for the season ahead, the Bruins will look to continue their strong start by making some hay against the division-rival Senators, who have made significant progress as they quickly climb out of an early-season hole in the standings.

Team Scope:

Bruins -- As one of six teams that began the 2010-11 season across the pond, Boston had the potential for a jetlag-induced slow start to its North American schedule, but the Bruins seem to have caught up on their sleep awfully quickly. The B's have won four of five games since returning from Europe, while outscoring opponents by a hefty 15-6 margin. The offense has quickly found its groove, with David Krejci and Milan Lucic combining for 14 points over the season's first seven games and Zdeno Chara, who has a three-game point streak, providing some production to go with his physical presence on the blue line.

Still, Boston ranks near the middle of the League in goals per game, but the pressure to score comes off when a team can rely on a rock between the pipes, and so far goaltender Tim Thomas has been that and then some. After a disappointing 2009-10 season, Thomas was expected to back up presumptive goalie of the future Tuukka Rask, but instead Thomas has stepped in with a 5-0-0 record in five starts to go with a stunning .981 save percentage and a miniscule 0.60 goals-against average. After posting his second shutout of the season in Boston's 2-0 win over Toronto Thursday, Thomas may not be relinquishing the starting job any time soon, and the Bruins appear all the better for it.

Senators -- To call Ottawa's start to the season less than ideal would be extremely diplomatic. The Senators lost five of their first six games, averaging just two goals each time they took the ice. After starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire went on injured reserve with a groin injury on Oct. 15, the light seemed a far ways down the tunnel. But after a rough start of his own, Brian Elliott has quietly put together a solid string of starts in net since Leclaire went down, winning three of his last four starts with a 2.50 GAA and a .924 save percentage.

The Senators seem to have followed suit, not just creeping back toward .500, which Ottawa would reach with a win Saturday night, but also finally producing offensively. Ottawa has busted out with 10 goals in its last two outings, only six fewer than the Sens scored in their first eight games. Winger Daniel Alfredsson, who notched his 1,000th career point earlier this season, has been as steady a force as always, tallying 6 goals and 6 assists to start the year. Mike Fisher has also chipped in with 3 points in the last two games, but Ottawa's offensive outburst has been a team effort -- seven different players have scored in the last two games.

Who's hot -- Canada is the perfect country for old men if its capital is any indication. In addition to Alfredsson's contributions, the ageless Alex Kovalev, who was drafted a year before NFL iron man Brett Favre made his first professional start, has 3 goals and 1 assist over the last two games. … Boston's Nathan Horton appears to be enjoying his move to the Hub. Horton has 5 goals and 4 assists in seven games this year.

Injury report -- Boston will be without Johnny Boychuk, who is expected to miss at least one month after breaking his left arm last week. Ottawa could be in need of some scoring punch, as center Jason Spezza is doubtful with a groin injury.

Stat pack -- Alfredsson doesn't seem to be slowing down at 37 years of age. His 12 points in the season's opening 10 games puts him on pace for a total of 98 for a full season, which would be the second highest total of his career. That may be unlikely, however. Alfredsson hasn't played the full 82 games since his rookie season in 1996.

Puck drop --
Despite Ottawa's early slump, there is more than enough season left for the Sens to make a move up the standings. Their play in the last week already has the Senators in a four-way tie for eighth in the East, and a win over the preseason division favorite would be a nice feather in their helmets. Don't expect Boston to take the matchup easily, though. The Bruins, who trail first-place Montreal by three points, have plenty of work to do themselves.

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