The Ottawa Senators are off to a surprising start, and another meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning may only help.
Coming off a victory over Florida's other NHL club, the Senators look to continue their dominance of teams from the Sunshine State on Thursday night when they visit the Lightning.
Last season, the Senators (6-2-2) missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons, and they were hoping to show improvement in 2009-10. They've done that so far, recording at least one point in eight of their last nine games since a season-opening 5-2 loss at the New York Rangers.
Ottawa continued its impressive start Wednesday, beating the Panthers 4-3 as four Senators scored. The victory also continued the club's outstanding success in Florida as Ottawa improved to 24-6-2 with a tie in its last 33 visits to Miami and Tampa Bay.
The Senators have dominated the Lightning (3-3-3), posting a 26-5-2 overall record with a tie dating to the 1999-2000 season. They beat them for the fourth consecutive time Oct. 15, as Milan Michalek had a hat trick in a 7-1 victory.
Ottawa, though, might be without goaltender Pascal Leclaire after he allowed one goal on 10 shots Wednesday before being removed in the first period due to an illness.
"Part way through the period during one of the TV timeouts (Leclaire) came over and said he was starting to feel dizzy," coach Cory Clouston said. "He felt he would be good until the end of the period. He's a gamer, he tried to stay in but by the end of the period it kept getting progressively worse."
Leclaire has been solid in the season's first month, going 4-2-1 with a 2.72 goals-against average in eight games, including a 16-save performance in the last meeting with Tampa. If he's unable to play Thursday, Clouston would turn to Brian Elliott, who made 26 saves in relief against the Panthers to improve to 2-0-1 with a 2.55 GAA.
Elliott has won both of his games against the Lightning, posting a 0.98 GAA and a shutout.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa's leader with 14 points, has at least a point in nine of 10 games after getting a goal and an assist Wednesday. The right wing has 12 goals and 19 assists in his last 18 games against Tampa Bay, notching three assists Oct. 15.
The Lightning fell to 1-2-1 in their last four games following a 3-2 shootout loss to Buffalo on Saturday, as they gave up the tying goal with 17 seconds left in regulation. Tampa Bay has lost all three games that have reached the tiebreaker after dropping 10 of 13 last season.
"It's really getting frustrating, the shootout," coach Rick Tocchet said. "This team is still learning how to win. That's a tough loss for us. You learn from your mistakes and move on.
"It's hard to win in this league. Nothing comes easy. We've got to keep pounding that into the guys."
Steven Stamkos, who scored a goal Saturday before missing his shootout attempt, has a five-game point streak, during which he's totaled five goals and two assists. He had a career-high six-game streak March 12-24.
The second-year center leads the Lightning with seven goals and his 11 points are two back of team leader Martin St. Louis, who has at least a point in each game this season.