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Lots to notice about Sens foe

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
They're a once-a-year rival, at best.

But when the Ottawa Senators take to the ice at the United Center tonight to lock horns with the Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200), they won't exactly be lining up across from a unfamiliar foe. Let's just say the players and the coaching staff have seen more than their share of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brian Campbell and Co.

"We've seen a lot of them in the highlights," said Senators goaltender Martin Gerber, who makes his first start in a month tonight. "They're a high-speed and high-skilled team and they definitely work very hard. We really have to match that."

Added head coach Craig Hartsburg: "We've watched quite a bit of them in the last day or so. They're playing really well right now."

The contrast between the two teams is rather obvious, at least at the moment. Only the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins have produced more goals than the 90 produced by the Blackhawks, while the Senators rank No. 4 in the National Hockey League in goals-against average.

Let's just say tonight's matchup figures to test the Senators' improved defensive play.

"They have a lot of skill and a lot of speed up front," captain Daniel Alfredsson said of the Blackhawks. "It's going to be a good challenge for us. We know they're scoring a lot of goals and we're going to have to bring our best to win this game."

Hartsburg said it starts with keying on the Hawks' swift blue-line brigade.

"Their speed and transition really comes from the back end," he said after the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today at the United Center. "Guys like Campbell and (Duncan) Keith can really skate and move the puck. That's where they generate a lot of tempo to their game.

"Not to say that their forwards don't (do it), but when the puck is moving and their D are bringing it up the ice with the speed those guys can bring it, it adds a lot of tempo to your game. We're going to have to get good pressure on their defence to maybe make them move the puck before they want to."

The Senators (10-10-5) are aiming to move back above the .500 mark before heading to Washington to face the Capitals on Friday night (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200). Then they're back at Scotiabank Place on Saturday to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

Around the boards

No lineup changes for the Senators tonight, meaning Christoph Schubert is again a healthy scratch ... The Hawks are 8-1-4 this season at the United Center, where they have recorded 13 straight sellouts ... The teams last met Dec. 22, 2007, with Chicago rallying for a 4-3 overtime victory ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for the Senators' next three home games: Saturday vs. Tampa Bay, Tuesday vs. the Atlanta Thrashers and Dec. 20 vs. the Dallas Stars. They're the last three appearances for the Sens at Scotiabank Place before the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship takes over the building.

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