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Spezza-less Senators challenge Hurricanes

by Tal Pinchevsky

SENATORS (5-1-1) at HURRICANES (2-3-0)

TV: FS-Carolinas

Season series: This is the first of three meetings this season between these clubs, who face off twice in the next week. Ottawa edged Carolina in last season's series, posting a 2-1-1 record.

Big story: Ottawa has been among the League's hottest teams out of the gate, but the Senators will be forced to overcome the loss of one of their top players. Other than a home-and-home sweep last week over Buffalo, Carolina has had difficulty gaining any real traction this season, allowing 14 goals in its three losses.

Team Scope:

Senators: Ottawa has received timely scoring across the board, getting goals from 13 different players, which is tied with Tampa Bay for most in the League heading into Thursday's action.

Unfortunately, one of those 13 scorers, Jason Spezza, will be out for at least two months. The Senators' star center, who finished fourth in League scoring last season, is scheduled to undergo back surgery on Friday. Spezza was out of the lineup Wednesday night against Montreal, but didn't appear to be missed.

Against its Northeast Division rival, Ottawa fell behind early, 1-0. But the team stormed back with five unanswered goals. And while the game appeared to be secured by the third period, goaltender Craig Anderson made a series of fantastic stops late in the game, including a couple against Montreal forward Brandon Prust.

Hurricanes: During last week's home-and-home sweep of Buffalo, there were indications that Carolina might be turning the corner and living up to some of the preseason hype. The Hurricanes kept some of that momentum going in Monday night's contest against the Bruins, but a closely-contested game got away in the end.

Against Boston, things looked grim early, as Carolina trailed 2-0 just 6:15 into the contest and 3-1 late in the second period. That was until Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal scored 50 seconds apart to tie the game late in the middle period. But the East-leading Bruins took over in the third, outshooting Carolina 18-8 in the period. The Hurricanes defense appeared to bend but not break until David Krejci gave Boston the lead off a perfect pass from rookie Dougie Hamilton with just 1:50 remaining in the game. Tyler Seguin scored his first of the season into an empty net to seal the 5-3 Boston victory.

"In the second, we were starting to pick up," coach Kirk Muller said. "But we were just unable to sustain it in the third. It was close towards the end, but we knew it was going to be a tough battle."

Who's hot: Erik Karlsson has retained his Norris-Trophy form with four points in five games, while Daniel Alfredsson has four points in his last three games. Mika Zibanejad also has a goal [the first of his NHL career] and an assist in two games since being called up from Binghamton. Heading into Thursday, Anderson leads the League with five wins and a .967 save percentage. … Eric Staal has paced the Hurricanes' attack with four goals and six points in his last three games. Not to be outdone, Jordan Staal has five points [all assists] in his last four games while Skinner has scored in four consecutive games.

Injury report: Ottawa's injury woes don't end with Spezza. Defenseman Jared Cowen is out for the season following hip surgery and fellow defender Mike Lundin is out with a broken finger. Another defenseman, Sergei Gonchar, missed Wednesday's game with a lower-body injury but is expected to play Friday. … Tuomo Ruutu, who led Carolina with five points in four games against Ottawa last season, is out following hip surgery while Justin Faulk is questionable with an upper-body ailment.

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