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Sizzling Senators facing tough road test

by Mike G. Morreale /
The Ottawa Senators are well ahead of their pace from a season ago, but coach Cory Clouston realizes now's not the time for the Senators to rest on their laurels.

The Senators will play eight of their next 11 games on the road, including a four-game West Coast swing that begins Dec. 1 in San Jose and concludes Dec. 6 in Anaheim.

The Senators are defying the laws of statistics right now. They're the third most penalized team in the League (377 minutes), have received just two goals from perennial scoring machine Jason Spezza, were without defenseman Anton Volchenkov (elbow) the last 13 games and are now playing without starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire -- who'll be sidelined four weeks with a broken cheekbone.

Heck, a walk in the park, right? Through it all, the Senators haven't appeared a bit fazed by it all. Replacements come and go, but the system Clouston has instilled remains the same.

Third-season wing Nick Foligno, whose power-play goal with 6:10 left in the third period gave the Senators their fifth victory in the last six games (2-1 over Columbus Thursday), is thrilled to be a part of the club's attacking style this season.

"We have an attacking mentality right now and that's so important in today's NHL -- to go after teams, but be reliable defensively," Foligno said. "We have that mentality to jump up into plays and our defense has done a good job in helping out with odd-man rushes."

Another key during this critical stretch will be goalie Brian Elliott, who'll now get the majority of starts with Leclaire out. He'll be backed up by Mike Brodeur, who was 5-4-1 with two shutouts and a 2.92 goals-against average with the Ottawa's AHL affiliate in Binghamton.

"It's disappointing to (lose Leclaire)," Clouston said. "But we'll make the best of it. (Elliott) has played well and this is a great opportunity for him. He's come into quite a few pressure situations already and responded well, so he just needs to keep doing what he's been doing."

Elliott was a mid-season call-up from Binghamton last season and provided a glimpse of a what is sure to be a promising future in Ottawa. Elliott finished 16-8-3 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. He even played in seven-straight games on two occasions and established a franchise record for a rookie goaltender by winning eight-consecutive games.

"I got thrown into the fire last year," said Elliott, a ninth-round selection (291st overall) in the 2003 Entry Draft.  "That experience last year -- playing a lot of games in a row and getting a lot of chances -- will help me. I feel comfortable in the net because last year helped me just to handle the pressures. Now when you have a bad game or a bad period, you're able to bounce back a lot easier because I've experienced that."

Elliott proved his point on Thursday in his third straight start when he stopped 32 shots in the victory over Columbus -- 24 hours after suffering a 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

In nine appearances this season, Elliott is 5-2-2 with a 2.57 GAA and .911 save percentage. While he's sad to see Leclaire sidelined by a freak injury -- he was struck by a puck on the bench during a Nov. 23 game against Washington -- he realizes it's a great opportunity to justify his importance to the organization. Leclaire was 8-5-1 with a 2.71 GAA and .901 save percentage at the time of his injury.

"We have an attacking mentality right now and that's so important in today's NHL -- to go after teams, but be reliable defensively. We have that mentality to jump up into plays and our defense has done a good job in helping out with odd-man rushes."
-- Nick Foligno

"It's an opportunity for me to step in and carry a bit of the load here and give the guys a chance to win any given night," he told "I think we've been playing with a lot of confidence and playing well late in games. I think that says a lot about our character -- coming back to win these games."

The Senators have already accrued 29 points this season -- a total they didn't reach until Dec. 20 in 2008-09. Elliott believes the team's desire to excel at both ends have played a key role in the turnaround under Clouston this campaign.

"I think it's just having presence at both ends of the ice and near the net," Elliott said. "Just boxing out guys -- a lot of goals being scored right now are the result of guys just driving to the net and whacking in rebounds and stuff. So boxing guys out and allowing me to see the puck in our end and screening the goalie at the other end has played a big part. When we've gotten away from that, that's when we get our problems."

Ottawa center Mike Fisher doesn't expect any letdown in Elliott now that he'll see more work between the pipes.

"Brian is a good goalie; he was a good backup and now he'll get a lot of games but we know he can do the job," Fisher said. "Hopefully, Pascal won't be out too long but as long as we're playing good in front of Brian, we know he can do the job."

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