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Auld rides a winning wave

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Alex Auld struggles to put it into words, that special feeling a goaltender gets when he's right on top of his game.

But there is nothing so problematic about his play these days -- or the rest of his teammates, for that matter. The Senators are riding a 3-0-1 roll into Thursday night's matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) and Auld, who will make his seventh straight start, is clearly a huge part of it.

The lanky netminder currently owns a 4-2-1 record, with a sparkling 1.96 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. It's no coincidence, though, that the run happens to mirror the Senators' improved commitment to team defence in recent games.

"As a team, we've played better defence over the last bunch of games and when you're doing that, you give your goaltender a lot better opportunity," said veteran defenceman Jason Smith. "When he's facing shots and they're not always premium opportunities... when you give your goalie that opportunity to make those saves and get comfortable, it makes a big difference when you need him to make the big save.

"(Auld) has been doing both. He's been making the easy saves and the big saves for us."

Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg has spoken freqently about Auld's "poise in the crease" and the positive effect it has had on the rest of the team. But the goaltender himself simply defines it as "the style of game I play, trying to stay under control."

"It's a mindset to try and stay calm and not let things bother you or not let get too excited during the game," said Auld. "Just try to maintain your focus but with an even keel of balance and emotion and that way, you're always the same, no matter what. You're always feeling the same way and it helps."

Smith simplifies it even further, saying he sees Auld brimming with confidence at the moment.

"He's confident in what he's doing, he's confident in the decisions he's making," said Auld. "If you go around and ask any player in the league, (he'll tell you) if you're feeling confident and you've got that edge, it's a lot easier to play than if you're timid or struggling out there."

That also might describe what's happened to the Senators as a whole over the last four games as they've pushed back up to the .500 mark (5-5-2).

"It's a work in progress but we've giving ourselves a chance to win every night now," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "We don't shoot ourselves in the foot unnecessarily. We've been disciplined and we don't take a lot of penalties. Special teams have been pretty good and when we get better 5-on-5, we should be winning more consistently.

"It's nice when you're playing well and you get the result. It gives you confidence."

Auld, for his part, has no shortage of that at the moment. He's in an obvious groove, but the words that might define it don't come easily.

"It's never anything I've been able to describe when asked about it," he said. "But I believe in just the basics and fundamentals and any time you waver from being at the top of your game, you just go back to basics and it can come back pretty quickly because you have some strong core values in the way you play.

"That way, you can get out of any slump pretty quickly if you just go back to one thing."

Around the boards

Dany Heatley has scored goals in four consecutive games for the Senators ... Filip Kuba shares the league lead in points by a defenceman (13) ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for Thursday night's game, while 1,750 remain for the New York Islanders' visit to Scotiabank Place on Nov. 13.

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