(Check out the NHL game notes for tonight's Ottawa- New York matchup).
|Daniel Alfredsson and the Senators haven't forgotten the formula that helped them rack up a 14-2-0 record before the Olympic break (Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images).
Finally, it's time to drop the puck for real again at Scotiabank Place.
For the Ottawa Senators, tonight's home-ice matchup with the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) marks the beginning of the stretch run toward the playoffs. It can't come soon enough for a team that has been cooling its heels during the two-week Olympic break.
Nineteen games to go — seven at home, 12 on the road — to determine where the Senators will sit heading into the post-season. Thanks to a 14-2-0 run before the break, Ottawa finds itself on top of the Northeast Division, one point in front of the Buffalo Sabres.
While it might take a bit of time to shed some rust tonight, the Senators surely haven't lost the formula for the success they enjoyed before the break.
"It’s still in the back of our head," said captain Daniel Alfredsson
, one of five Senators who represented their countries at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. "We know we played well and, like everybody else, we’ve just got to start new ... I expect us to come out with a lot of energy, knowing the games we have ahead of us.
"We did a great job before the break to put ourselves in a really good position. Now we’re going to have to keep pushing and match the desperation other teams are going to have."
The Rangers, who currently sit in 10th place — one point shy of a playoff position — would certainly qualify as one of those teams.
"They're playing for their playoff lives," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "We know they're going to be a tough team to beat tonight."
"We know we played well and, like everybody else, we’ve just got to start new ... I expect us to come out with a lot of energy, knowing the games we have ahead of us. We did a great job before the break to put ourselves in a really good position. Now we’re going to have to keep pushing and match the desperation other teams are going to have." - Daniel Alfredsson
Added centre Mike Fisher: "
They’re hungry. They’re fighting for a playoff spot, so they’re going to be ready to play. We’ve got to just be ready and focus on our game, the little things. Keep it simple, especially early, and make sure our shifts are short and we’re getting back into it."
Clouston agreed "just getting back to that game-ready (mentality)" might be the biggest challenge tonight. But he senses his team is primed for the renewed call to action.
"We know we’ve got to get our ‘A’ game going and, hopefully, right from the drop of the puck, we’ll be ready," he said. "The intensity and the energy in the dressing room have been good, but it’s a matter of now translating that into the game and within the structure that we want."
Nobody is probably more anxious to get playing than defenceman Erik Karlsson
, who returns to the lineup after being sidelined since Feb. 5 with a shoulder injury. Fortunately for the Swedish rookie, the Olympic break limited his absence to just five games.
"It’s never a good time to get injured but I missed five games instead of maybe 20 so in that sense, it was good," he said. "It gave me a chance to stay here and do my rehab and really get ready for this game tonight ... It’s always good to get a break but it’s even better to get back. I’ve been looking forward to this day."Around the boards
Brian Elliott makes his 15th straight start in goal tonight ... The Senators' lines during the pre-game skate: Milan Michalek-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson, Matt Cullen-Mike Fisher-Alex Kovalev, Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil and Ryan Shannon-Peter Regin-Jesse Winchester ...
Fewer than 2,500 tickets remain for tonight's game, while 1,250 are left for Saturday's visit by the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).