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Sens need to get their offensive stars going

by Arpon Basu
MONTREAL -- The Ottawa Senators are in Montreal on Tuesday to face the Canadiens for the fourth of six meetings this season, with a lot of their top players struggling on the offensive end.

Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Sergei Gonchar have no points in their last seven games, with Alfredsson's drought matching a career high set in his rookie season.

Milan Michalek, Mike Fisher and Alex Kovalev have gone four games without a point.

Not surprisingly, the Senators have only won two of their past seven games, but they are feeling relatively good about themselves after picking up three out of a possible four points over their last two games.

"I think the last two games have definitely been steps in the right direction, something to build on," Alfredsson said after Tuesday's morning skate. "We need to continue that."

Alfredsson and Spezza especially are the offensive engines that make this team go. When either of them score, the Senators are 7-4-0. When neither does, the team is 5-10-2.

"I think the last two games have definitely been steps in the right direction, something to build on. We need to continue that." -- Senators captain, Daniel Alfredsson

"I don't think we've been hard enough on our forecheck," Alfredsson said. "When you struggle, you get a bit tentative and you make it too easy for other teams to break out. When we're playing well and creating offense, we're right in the other team's face."

While Alfredsson has the benefit of going home to his three kids when he's done at the rink to take his mind off the slump, Spezza admits it can get to him at times.

"I'm getting a little bit better at leaving the game at the rink and separating home life from hockey life," he said. "But it definitely wears on you. You think about ways to get out of it, ways to help the team out. It's one thing if you're not scoring and the team's winning. It's another thing when you're not scoring and the team's losing. It makes it tougher."

Senators coach Cory Clouston said that the team's struggles have been influenced by the suicide of assistant coach Luke Richardson's 14-year-old daughter Daron. Her funeral was held on Nov. 17, and the entire team attended the ceremony before flying to Carolina to play the Hurricanes that night. The Senators lost the game 7-1, and have compiled a 3-7-1 record since Daron's death was announced by the team on Nov. 13.

"We had a tough start, we had a week where one of the members of our team lost a member of his family, which had a big impact on our team," Clouston said Tuesday. "We had a game where we travelled the day of the game, and it was tough to recover. It's not a light switch you can turn on and off. We struggled for a few games there, but I feel we got our game back on track over the last couple of games and, to me, that's what we're focusing on."

Meanwhile, the big news out of Canadiens camp Tuesday was that rookie defenseman P.K. Subban will be a healthy scratch for a third consecutive game.

Subban was initially scratched by coach Jacques Martin after making a reckless play in the offensive zone Dec. 1 that allowed the Edmonton Oilers to tie a game they eventually won in overtime. Then the Canadiens went on to post a 5-1 win in New Jersey last Thursday and won 3-1 at home Saturday against San Jose, both times without Subban.

Subban's spot in the lineup has been admirably filled by fellow rookie defenseman Yannick Weber, with the two bringing very similar skill sets to the table. They are both right-handed shots, they both excel in power play situations and they are both considered risky in their own end.

Martin was asked Tuesday what it will take to get Subban back in the lineup, but he wasn't biting.

"I'm busy enough preparing for tonight's game without thinking about what's going to happen in the future," he said.

Martin did, however, liken the competition between Subban and Weber to the one between Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak in the Montreal net last season.

"You want to have nice competition," Martin said. "That usually brings the best out of people."

Price will be back in goal for the Canadiens for his League-high 26th start, and he will face Pascal Leclaire, who is coming off a 32-save performance in Sunday's 3-1 win in New York over the Rangers.
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