|After missing 15 games with a lacerated calf, Chris Neil returns to the Senators lineup for tonight's game in Boston against the Bruins. Ottawa is aiming to stretch its current winning streak to five games (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images).
On the very day he was enlisted to steer the turnaround, Cory Clouston was quickly deemed "the right man to right the ship" by one of his loyal troops.
And as the Ottawa Senators head down the final stretch of the 2008-09 season, Clouston continues to deliver on the promise he made when general manager Bryan Murray handed him the head coaching reins at the beginning of February.
When Clouston took over for the fired Craig Hartsburg at the beginning of February, the Senators were a 17-24-7 team that was foundering badly. But since Clouston moved behind the bench, a group that previously couldn't string more than two victories together has reeled off one five-game winning streak and has a chance to repeat that feat in Boston tonight against the Bruins (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
While the 10-5-3 record under Clouston's direction hasn't yet vaulted the Senators into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race – at 27-29-10, Ottawa is still 13 points shy of a post-season berth – a foundation is clearly being built for a better future.
"We wanted to see how good this team can be," said Clouston, who took the Ottawa head-coaching job on an interim basis and won't look beyond the end of this season just yet. "We also wanted to make sure we had this team moving forward in the right direction and I think, so far, we've been able to do that.
"The proof is in the record right now. Do we play every night exactly the way we want to? No, but I don't think any team can say that right now. We have to give credit to other teams. Sometimes they outplay you, sometimes they have better goaltending, sometimes they get the breaks, sometimes they just deserve to win.
"I think we'd be very arrogant if we thought we should go out there and win every single game. Sometimes, other teams do good things as well but I think overall, we're happy with the direction the team is going in."
"We wanted to see how good this team can be. We also wanted to make sure we had this team moving forward in the right direction and I think, so far, we've been able to do that." - Cory Clouston
That direction will get another test tonight in Beantown against a Bruins team that has won five straight against the Senators, including all three meetings this season. But since posting a 4-3 overtime triumph over Ottawa on Feb. 5 in Clouston's second game, the Eastern Conference-leading Bs have stumbled to a 4-8-3 record.
Still, Clouston knows his team will need more than it showed in Wednesday's 3-2 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning to break through against the Bruins tonight.
"We weren't real sharp in all areas," he said. "We can't have that mistake (against Boston)." Around the boards
After missing the past 15 games with a lacerated right calf, rugged forward Chris Neil
makes his much-anticipated return tonight. That means Shean Donovan will be a healthy scratch ... Defenceman Filip Kuba
(flu) won't suit up against the Bruins, but it's expected he'll be good to go against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday (3 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). "He's got to get his strength and conditioning (back)," Clouston said of Kuba. "It's easy to say that he's healthy, but there's a difference between being healthy and being able to play." ... Alex Auld
(12-16-6) makes the start in goal tonight.