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Hardly home for the holidays

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Home for the holidays? Not if you're the Ottawa Senators.

While they'll get a brief Christmas break later this week, the Senators won't spend much time in the friendly confines of the nation's capital over the next 17 days. With the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship about to take over Scotiabank Place, it's eight straight road dates ahead for a team that's 0-7-2 in its last nine tests away from home.

Considering the Senators (12-14-5) currently stand 12th in the Eastern Conference, eight points out of a playoff spot, crucial doesn't even begin to describe the upcoming stretch of games away from home.

"It's going to be pivotal where we stand when we come out of this eight-game trip," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "It's important for us to get it off to a good start. We've played some good teams in tough cities, so we've got to be ready."

The road starts Tuesday night at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia against the red-hot Flyers (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200), who are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games and sit fourth in the East. On home ice, they're 11-4-3 this season.

"We haven't had a great record on the road and it's a huge stretch for us," said Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg. "It starts tomorrow against a real good team in a tough building to play. But we've got to make sure our focus is on that work and that team part of it that we saw (Saturday) night against Dallas.

"We have to look at just tomorrow's game. Then we have a little break for Christmas but tomorrow is the game that we really have to focus on."

Exactly who Hartsburg will have available for tomorrow's game isn't certain just yet. Captain Daniel Alfredsson, who left Saturday's 5-4 overtime triumph over the Stars with an upper-body injury, is making the trip but Hartsburg said a decision on his playing status won't be made until close to game time.

"He'll probably skate in the morning and we'll make the decision there," said Hartsburg.

Alfredsson expressed optimism after he arrived in Philadelphia.

"It's been getting better and better every day, so I'll try to skate tomorrow morning," he said. "I'm hoping to play tomorrow. That's the best way I can put it. Until I really skate, I can't tell for sure (but) I'm hoping to play."

Defenceman Filip Kuba (groin), however, is out against the Flyers after departing early from today's practice at the Bell Sensplex. Kuba leads all the Senators blueliners with 22 points, including a team-leading 21 assists.

"It's certainly not good to have (Kuba) out of the lineup," said Hartsburg. "He's probably been our best and most consistent player back there."

Added defenceman Brendan Bell: "He's been our ace on the back end. He does pretty much everything. He kills penalties, he's real good on the power play and he's great at even strength. But there are a few guys ready to step up to fill that hole and, hopefully, (Kuba's absence) is for shorter than expected."

The Senators hope they can ride the momentum of Saturday's dramatic triumph over the Stars, which was secured when Jason Smith notched the winner in overtime.

"Hopefully, we can build off that last game," said centre Mike Fisher. "I know it's only one game but we've got to continue to compete that way."

Around the boards

Forward Ilya Zubov's visa problems have been cleared up and he'll make the trip on Tuesday. So, too, will versatile centre Dean McAmmond, who's missed the past 11 games recovering from pneumonia but finally is good to go. "We think he'll be available to play if we need him," said Hartsburg ... The Senators head to western Canada on Boxing Day for games in Calgary (Saturday), Vancouver (Sunday) and Edmonton (Dec. 30). The second half of their road swing takes them to Toronto (Jan. 2), New Jersey (Jan. 3), Buffalo (Jan. 6) and Boston (Jan. 8).

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