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Anderson right at home in south Florida

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators goaltender Craig Anderson returns to one of his old haunts tonight when he goes between the pipes for Ottawa against the Panthers in Sunrise, Fla. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

The sights and sounds of south Florida no doubt remain so very familiar.

But beyond that, Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson doesn't exactly look upon tonight's road contest against the Florida Panthers (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) as a meeting with old friends.

"It's always fun to go back and play in old buildings and see people that you knew," Anderson said with an eye toward this evening's matchup at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla. "The team has changed quite a bit ... there's not too many guys on that side that I know anymore. The fans are the same, the jerseys are the same, so that's one of the constants in the game."

The 29-year-old Anderson backed up Tomas Vokoun for two seasons in Florida before moving on to the Colorado Avalanche, where he became a National Hockey League starter for the first time last season. The Senators acquired the native of Park Ridge, Ill., from the Avs for Brian Elliott in an exchange of goaltenders on Feb. 18.

With the Senators slated to face the high-flying Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200) in the second half of back-to-back games in the Sunshine State, tonight might have seemed like a good spot to give Curtis McElhinney his first Ottawa start. But head coach Cory Clouston didn't hesistate in naming Anderson his starter tonight.

"This is a team I'm sure (Anderson) would like to beat tonight," Clouston said earlier today. "There's no reason to make a change this evening and we're not going to."

Then again, Anderson — who met his wife, Nicole, during his years with the Panthers — has been nothing short of sensational since arriving in Ottawa. He's posted a 5-3-0 record in a Senators jersey with a sparkling 1.49 goals-against average and .954 save percentage. Tonight's game marks his ninth straight start, but this is a guy who turned in 71 games' worth of duty in Colorado last season.

The Senators also hope to duplicate the kind of effort that produced a 2-1 victory on Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils, the NHL's hottest team. Rookie Erik Condra scored both Ottawa goals, with Anderson and the defence taking care of the rest.

"We have to be a little bit better through the neutral zone," said Clouston. "We allowed too much time and space for Jersey to attack on us. And just be a little bit more aware in the defensive zone. For the most part, we were good (on Tuesday), but there were a few breakdowns. It was just awareness and position, so those are two areas we really want to tighten up tonight."

Around the boards

Clouston has been pleased with the play of defenceman Derek Smith, who has been with the team since a March 1 callup from the Binghamton Senators. "We saw one play in the third period (against New Jersey) where he put it between his legs, did a spinorama play in the corner and was able to make a nice play up to the winger," said Clouston. "He’s come a long way in the last four years. I think last year’s experience (as a callup) has helped him as well" ... Ottawa defenceman Sergei Gonchar needs one assist to reach the 500 plateau for his career ... The Senators won both previous meetings this season against the Panthers, 5-3 on Oct. 28 and 5-1 on Feb. 23, both at Scotiabank Place ... After the two games in Florida, the Senators close out their four-game road trip Sunday in Buffalo against the Sabres (5 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) ... Ottawa's next home game is Tuesday, when former Senators forward Alex Kovalev and the Pittsburgh Penguins visit Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

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