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A new year, a new start

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
They've turned the page into 2009. No time like the present, the Ottawa Senators believe, to turn over a new leaf when it comes to their playoff fortunes.

The Senators get their new year started in an old familiar place, facing off against the Maple Leafs tonight at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Never mind that it’s the latest installment of the always emotional Battle of Ontario — the Senators have bigger thoughts on their minds.

Sitting in the 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings, the Senators find themselves 11 points shy of the eighth and final post-season berth currently held by the Pittsburgh Penguins. So there is plenty more at stake, indeed, than provincial bragging rights tonight.

“For us in the situation where we are right now, coming in here and sitting outside the playoffs … it’s a division game, a conference game and a very important game for us,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said after his team’s pre-game skate earlier today at the ACC.

Ottawa ended 2008 on a high note, edging the Oilers 3-2 in Edmonton on Tuesday night to end a 12-game road winless streak. Tonight’s matchup marks the start of another four-game stretch away from home before the Senators finally return to Scotiabank Place again on Jan. 10 to face the New York Rangers.

Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg has sensed a renewed bounce in his players’ steps since the critical win against the Oilers.

“(That was) a big win in Edmonton,” he said. “I’ve seen some enthusiasm and a lot of energy the past couple of days in our practices. I’m excited about our team here tonight.”

While the Leafs have dropped four of their last five games, Alfredsson expects nothing less than a hard-working effort from their opponents tonight.

“They play a high-energy style,” Alfredsson said of the Leafs. “Their coach (Ron Wilson) has them playing hard. They’re a tenacious team, so they’re not going to give you anything easily … They work hard every night and if you’re not ready for it, you’ll be in for a long night.”

“(That was) a big win in Edmonton. I’ve seen some enthusiasm and a lot of energy the past couple of days in our practices. I’m excited about our team here tonight.” - Craig Hartsburg
After tonight, the Senators head to Newark, N.J., to take on the Devils on Sunday (5 p.m. TSN, Team 1200) before travelling to Buffalo (Tuesday) and Boston (Thursday) to close out their lengthy road swing.

By the time they return home, the Senators will be two games shy of hitting the season’s halfway point. Clearly, the time is now to begin making a move toward playoff contention.

“We know the urgency,” said Alfredsson. “We’ve got to start winning now. We can’t wait. It’s so close and every game is a one-goal game or it goes to a shootout and both teams get points.
“It is tough to make up points but we need to get things going now.”

Around the boards

The Senators will be a healthier bunch tonight, getting defenceman Anton Volchenkov and forward Jesse Winchester back in the lineup. Both had been sidelined with upper body injuries. Volchenkov’s return will make Brendan Bell a healthy scratch tonight … Martin Gerber (4-7-1) makes his third straight start in goal

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