Defenceman Chris Campoli and the Senators are eager to face the test that will be provided by a five-game homestand that begins Saturday, when the New York Rangers visit Scotiabank Place (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images).
Perhaps more than ever, parity is the name of the game in the National Hockey League.
Look no further than the Ottawa Senators, who have seen 11 of their first 16 games this season decided by two goals or less. Still, it's hard not to sit up and take extra notice when this team scans the list of teams that will visit Scotiabank Place during a crucial five-game homestand.
Start with the New York Rangers, who supply Saturday afternoon's opposition (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200), then follow it up with the provincial rival Toronto Maple Leafs (Nov. 17), Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins (Nov. 19) and the Buffalo Sabres (Nov. 21), before finishing it off with an appearance by Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals (Nov. 23).
For the 8-6-2 Senators, who are still in the process of trying to figure out exactly what type of team they've got, it can be seen as an early-season measuring stick, indeed.
"It’s definitely a challenge for us, with the teams that are coming in," Senators defenceman Chris Campoli said after the team's practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "But it doesn’t really change how you prepare. There’s so much parity in the league these days and no matter who it is, you pretty much have to be on the ball at all times.
"(But this) is a good opportunity for us to see where we’re at and it’ll be a good challenge for our club."
The opportunity is also there for the Senators, who currently sit ninth in the Eastern Conference, to bank some of the points they'll need to make a run at a return to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"We’re playing teams that are ahead of us (in the conference) and we’re playing teams that are in our division," said centre Jason Spezza. "Those are the games (that allow you) to separate yourself a little bit, because they don’t get a chance to make up points on the same night. So they’re important games."
As the Senators also know, the home-heavy schedule they're playing now has to turn the other way at some point. In other words, there's no better time than the present to make the most of home-ice advantage.
"It’s very important," forward Chris Neil said of the upcoming homestand. "We’re going to pay for it later on when we go on the road and when you go into other teams’ buildings, it’s tougher to play, for sure. We want to establish a good atmosphere in this building and we want visiting teams, when they come in here … we don’t want them to want to come in here.
"We want to be hard to play against and we want to know we’re relentless out there. We just keep coming at them. That’s the identity we want and we’ve still got some work to do before we get there, that’s for sure. But we’ve made some steps in the right direction."
"It’s definitely a challenge for us, with the teams that are coming in. But it doesn’t really change how you prepare. There’s so much parity in the league these days and no matter who it is, you pretty much have to be on the ball at all times. (But this) is a good opportunity for us to see where we’re at and it’ll be a good challenge for our club."- Chris Campoli
Added Campoli: "You definitely want to win 75 per cent of your home games. My old junior coach told me 75 per cent at home and .500 on the road and you’re a pretty good hockey club. If we can do that, I think we’ll be happy."
Thursday's 5-1 road setback at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers wasn't one of those steps, but there's little time to dwell on it with the high-flying Rangers and top-flight goaltender Henrik Lundqvist coming to town.
"They’ve got good goaltending, (Marian) Gaborik scored another last night … he’s an elite goal scorer," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "They’re a pressure team. They come at you hard in all three zones, and they're very aggressive on the penalty kill." The Senators would surely love to give the latter more of a test. They've only enjoyed three power-play chances in the last three games, a situation that hasn't exactly given a jolt to the team's attack. Mike Fisher scored on Ottawa's lone extra-man advantage against the Flyers.
"I think we’re at (a) 21 per cent (success rate) over the last six or seven games," said Clouston. "We just haven’t had enough power plays for it to be a real big impact on our games."
Around the boards
Peter Regin is actually Peter Jensen, the Senators rookie centre revealed today. Regin is his middle name (and his father's first name) but because "about 20 per cent of the country" back home in Denmark has the same last name, he decided to go with Regin as his last name when he was 15 years old ... Captain Daniel Alfredsson took another "maintenance" day off practice today but should be good to go against the Rangers ... Fewer than 3,500 tickets remain for Saturday's game.