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Ailing Sens hit the road

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators centre Jesse Winchester could miss up to a month with a right kneecap injury suffered in Saturday night's loss to the Florida Panthers at Scotiabank Place (Getty Images).

It will be anything but all hands on deck as the Ottawa Senators embark on their most crucial road trip yet this season.

As the Senators begin a five-game trek over the next nine days, they've learned forward Jesse Winchester will be out for perhaps a month with a right kneecap injury suffered in Saturday night's 3-0 loss to the Florida Panthers at Scotiabank Place. Defenceman Filip Kuba also left that game with an upper-body injury and won't be on the ice at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., later today, when Ottawa faces off against the Hurricanes (5 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).

Winchester's injury further depletes a forward corps that is already missing the services of captain Daniel Alfredsson (separated left shoulder), No. 1 centre Jason Spezza (right knee) and top goal scorer Milan Michalek (upper body).

"Very tough," Senators head coach Cory Clouston said earlier today of the injury suffered by Winchester, who started the season on injured reserve with an unrelated knee issue. "(Saturday) night was a perfect example of what he was starting to do for us. He was playing physical and playing his role very well. He was playing on the fourth line but his role, as far as being on specialty teams, was very important for us.

"All of a sudden, we're down four guys who kill penalties for us. (Winchester) was that much more important ... he wasn't playing as many minutes 5-on-5 but his kill minutes were going up."

Binghamton callup Zack Smith is likely to assume some of those duties as the Senators — again — must to their best to patch together a competitive lineup with the healthy bodies on hand. Clouston admitted is something that's "easier said than done."

"We've just got to not feel sorry for ourselves," he said. "We've got five or six guys out of the lineup, we've got some key injuries, but we've just got to persevere and we've got to keep working hard. Good things will happen if we keep working hard and just play the game.

"Right now, it looks like we've a little bit tentative. It's important for us to get out to a quick and early lead (tonight) — that'll help our energy levels — and with our roster right now, it's a lot easier playing with a lead than coming from behind."

"We've just got to not feel sorry for ourselves. We've got five or six guys out of the lineup, we've got some key injuries, but we've just got to persevere and we've got to keep working hard. Good things will happen if we keep working hard and just play the game." - Cory Clouston
The good news is that, despite a seemingly never-ending rash of injuries, the Senators (22-19-4) have managed to maintain their grip on an Eastern Conference spot. They're tied for seventh with the Montreal Canadiens but the Philadelphia Flyers loom right behind them, a mere single point behind. The 10th-place New York Islanders are just two back.

"We're still right in the thick of things," said Clouston. "There's just a few areas where we have to be better, whether it's as individuals or as a team. We've just got to find more guys to pull the trigger for us (and score goals). We've talked a lot about the goaltending — we need a few more timely saves early. It's tough when you're short-staffed offensively and it seems like you're always playing catchup hockey. That's not easy to do.

"That's where being a whole team comes into it. You get the save, it gives you energy, it deflates the opposition and maybe you feel you can play your game a little bit more as opposed to being tentative and (feeling) we just can't make a mistake. So every thing leads into each other and builds on each other."

Around the boards

Pascal Leclaire gets the start in goal tonight against the 'Canes ... With Winchester and Kuba sidelined, forward Shean Donovan and defenceman Alex Picard — both healthy scratches against the Panthers — draw back into the lineup ... Kuba is on the trip with the team, meaning he could see action before the Senators return home ... After tonight, it's off to Atlanta on Tuesday to tangle with the Thrashers (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).

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