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Last call at hand for Sens?

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Zack Smith and a few Senators prospects might get two more pre-season chances to show they're ready to earn a roster spot (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).

So this might not be the final audition after all.

After a hectic round of game action last week, the Ottawa Senators' pre-season schedule is now down to a pair of dates: tonight's matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Brandt Centre in Regina (9 p.m., no TV, Team 1200) and the Boston Bruins' visit to Scotiabank Place on Friday night (7 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200).

With a handful of cuts still to be made, it might be suggested a few final verdicts will be rendered after the game against the Bolts. But Senators head coach Cory Clouston suggested today he might wait until after both games are played this week before sorting out his final roster, which currently sits at 28 players (three goaltenders, nine defencemen and 16 forwards).

"It depends on how the game goes tonight," Clouston said after the Senators' pre-game skate. "We have a couple of different options, but I don’t know if we’re going to do anything until after the Boston game. There’s a good chance we might not do anything until after the Boston game.

"There’s no urgency right now. We have a pretty good idea of what we’ve got here, but we’ll wait and see how the game goes tonight."

That being said, tonight's contest still represents an opportunity for younger players such as defenceman Erik Karlsson and forwards Peter Regin and Zack Smith, who are all pushing for jobs, to take another positive step in that direction.

Complicating matters is the status of injured forward Jesse Winchester, who suffered a right knee injury in Saturday's 6-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens and is expected to be sidelined for at least three weeks.

"Nothing is a given," said Clouston. "If guys don’t perform, there could be changes after tonight’s game. But there’s a good chance we’re going to have this same group of guys for the next two games."

One for the road?

If this is indeed defenceman Jared Cowen's last pre-season game appearance with the Senators, what an occasion it will be. Ottawa's top pick (ninth overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft is a Saskatchewan native who couldn't be more thrilled to suit up in front of the home province fans tonight.

"It feels a little bit more comfortable," said the native of Allan, Sask., whose family now resides in Saskatoon. "Coming back (here) feels a little more like home, so it’s a good feeling."

Cowen saw his first pre-season action on Friday in Montreal. Before that, he hadn't played since suffering a major knee injury in a Jan. 30 game with his junior team, the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League. He is expected to be returned to Spokane after tonight's game.

In the meantime, he'll savour the chance to play with his future National Hockey League team before the home folks.

"I can’t remember (a National Hockey League game) happening here when I was growing up," he said. "It’s a hockey province here, so it’s going to get a lot of attention. I know my family’s all coming up."

Around the boards

Senators lines during this afternoon's pre-game skate at the Brandt Centre looked like this: Milan Michalek-Jason Spezza-Alex Kovalev; Nick Foligno-Peter Regin-Mike Fisher; Zack Smith-Ryan Shannon-Jonathan Cheechoo; Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil ... Brian Elliott will play the full 60 minutes in goal, with Mike Brodeur serving as the backup ... Not making the trip to Regina were goaltender Pascal Leclaire, defencemen Anton Volchenkov and Alex Picard, and forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Shean Donovan, Jesse Winchester and Christoph Schubert.

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