|Alex Kovalev and the Senators can match a team record with an eighth straight win on Thursday night, when they face the Penguins in Pittsburgh (Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images).
One more night, one more huge test successfully behind them.
Then again, the opponent hardly seems to matter these days for the Ottawa Senators, who keep mowing down every one that's placed in front of them. With a seven-game winning streak currently in tow, this group has even started to invite comparisons with the 2006-07 Senators outfit that overcame a rash of injuries and rolled all the way to the Stanley Cup final.
Let's just say the script is starting to seem eerily similar in a number of eyes.
"Absolutely," said Senators general manager Bryan Murray, who was the man behind the bench that season. "I think back then, we were able to put a structure in place and allow everybody to play a role and they fit and we won same games. It’s easier, then, as your guys get healthy to come back and play and accept the fact that there’s a whole group of people playing now and playing well and you’re one of them. You don’t have to be the individual that carries the team.
"You have to survive the injuries, mind you, but we’ve been able to do that. So yeah, it looks like a good team, it looks like good structure and everybody’s contributing and playing with discipline. As an organization, that’s what you like to see."
So, too, is the growing confidence within the dressing room. Seven straight wins will do that for a team, especially when the victim count includes the likes of the Chicago Blackhawks, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Boston Bruins. In other words, this hasn't been a hot streak built on the backs on the National Hockey League's lightweights.
"I’ve said it to the guys before – this team is good enough to beat any other one in the league," said forward Alex Kovalev, who is riding a season-high seven-game point streak. "It’s up to us to really believe in that and I think right now, that’s what is happening. We’re really starting to believe we can play against any other team in the league.
"We’re rolling four lines now, the goalies are playing well and everything is kind of falling into place the way we want it. Simple as that. You just have to believe."
Added centre Mike Fisher: "We’re playing well, we’re feeling good about where our game’s at now and I think we’ve improved a lot of different areas and we’ve been a tough team to play against. We’ve frustrated a lot of teams and from our goaltending through to our defence … they’re playing really well.
"Our depth up front is as good as anyone’s. So we’re excited about where we’re going."
"I’ve said it to the guys before – this team is good enough to beat any other one in the league. It’s up to us to really believe in that and I think right now, that’s what is happening. We’re really starting to believe we can play against any other team in the league. Everybody's starting to do the little things and we're not looking around, wondering who's going to do the job ... We're all really trying to support each other and do our part. We’re rolling four lines now, the goalies are playing well and everything is kind of falling into place the way we want it. Simple as that. You just have to believe." - Alex Kovalev
As they head to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins on Thursday night (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200), the Senators (29-21-4) stand fifth in the Eastern Conference – seven points clear of the chasing pack. They've also moved within five points of the Northeast Division-leading Buffalo Sabres, meaning a shot at a top-three playoff seeding isn't out of the question.
But first things first, said Senators head coach Cory Clouston.
"We’re just trying to win hockey games," he said after the Senators' practice earlier today at the Bell Sensplex. "We’re not really looking at where we’re going to be in the standings or winning our division. We’re just trying to win games and trying to be playing as best as we possibly can going into the playoffs."
It's an approach that seems to be working big time right now and, centre Jason Spezza
agreed, it's the right route to keep taking.
"The big picture is tough to look at with games in hand and who’s doing what," he said. "You can’t look at the standings every single day with all the changes or you’ll drive yourself crazy. I think we’ve just got to go into every game and just focus on that game and leave the ones (we've already played) behind us and not look too far forward, because that’s when you get yourself in trouble."
Though he'll consider ways to improve his team before the March 3 NHL trade deadline, Murray made it clear today he'd be comfortable heading into the playoffs with the team playing at its current level. He's also seen ample evidence there's enough depth on hand to withstand any future injury crisis.
"Our overall team depth in the organization is good but if there’s a chance to be better, we want to do that," he said. "But for the moment, if we continue to play at a good level and stay somewhat healthy ... this will be an exciting team down the stretch."
Around the boards
Forward Jesse Winchester
(knee) joined the team for practice today and is moving closer to a return to the lineup. "I don't know if he's cleared (to play) but he's close," said Clouston (more on this in the My Two Sens Worth
blog) ... Thursday's game will mark the Senators' final regular-season visit to Mellon Arena, the NHL's oldest arena. The Penguins, who have called the Igloo home since their expansion season of 1967-68, move into the new Consol Energy Center next fall ... The Senators will celebrate Hockey Day in Canada with a Saturday afternoon matchup against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).