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Michalek: 'I'm really happy here in Ottawa'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators forward Milan Michalek has no regrets about the September 2009 trade that brought him to Ottawa and sent Dany Heatley to San Jose. The two teams meet Thursday night at Scotiabank Place in a much-anticipated game (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

On the whole, Milan Michalek would rather be in Ottawa.

His name will be forever linked with the infamous trade that sent Dany Heatley to the San Jose Sharks back in September 2009. But with all due respect to the team that drafted him into the National Hockey League, Michalek couldn't be happier with the way the deal — which also brought Jonathan Cheechoo to Ottawa — worked out for him.

"It's (part of) hockey, when a trade happens," Michalek said on the eve of Thursday's much-anticipated matchup with the Sharks at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). "I'm really happy here now in Ottawa and I love the team. We're struggling right now, but we're going to be much better soon and it's going to be a good season for us."

Michalek, the Sharks' first-round pick (sixth overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, received a warm welcome from San Jose fans when the teams played at the Shark Tank on Dec. 1, 2009. Almost exactly a year later, the 25-year-old Czech winger is eagerly welcoming the chance to face off against some old friends on his new home turf.

"I still have a lot of friends there, so it's going to be special tomorrow," said Michalek. "I'm excited to play against them. Hopefully, we're going to get a win and we need it, too. It would be great to get a win against a good team, so we'll see tomorrow."

Indeed, while the frenzy is beginning to build for Heatley's return to Ottawa for the first time since the trade, the Senators (11-13-1) have bigger fish to fry, so to speak. Most specifically, it's finding the form that has deserted them while dropping six of eight games over the last two weeks. In their minds, that's what makes a win Thursday night against a top Western Conference opponent so critical.

"We're just focused on trying to play a better hockey game and win the game," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "But we know there's a sidebar to the game. We haven't talked about it at all, other than trying to be ready as a team.

"I still have a lot of friends there, so it's going to be special tomorrow. I'm excited to play against them. Hopefully, we're going to get a win and we need it, too. It would be great to get a win against a good team, so we'll see tomorrow." - Milan Michalek
"We want to win, we want to get rolling and it would be great to beat these guys."

Added centre Mike Fisher: "It's a big game. We have to be much better ... we've had a couple of good days (of practice) to re-energize and get focused on what we need to do. The fans will be charged up and we'll be ready."

Head coach Cory Clouston merely wants to see an upgrade from the performance the Senators turned in during Monday's disappointing 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

"We expect a team that needs to play hungry and needs to play with urgency and play the right way," he said. "We’ve had two good practices (since then), we’ve had a lot of jump and a lot of energy ... We need to carry that into tomorrow night’s game."

Michalek, meanwhile, believes Senators fans have yet to see the best from him. He produced 22 goals in 2009-10 during his first season in Ottawa, a campaign cut short by surgery to repair a torn ACL in April. It's been a long road back since then, but Michalek senses he's finally getting back to where he wants to be.

"The last three or four games, I've felt fairly good and my knee felt really good," he said. "I feel better skating, too, so hopefully it's going to get better (for me) now. I still think I can be much better than what I've showed (so far)."

Around the boards

Defenceman Brian Lee cleared NHL waivers today at noon, but general manager Bryan Murray indicated he won't be assigned to the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League for the time being ... Captain Daniel Alfredsson (flu) and forward Alex Kovalev (maintenance) didn't skate today, but Clouston expects both to be in the lineup against the Sharks ... "A handful of guys," Clouston added, have been battling various levels of the flu bug since last Friday's 2-1 loss in Pittsburgh ... Forward Bobby Butler has been named the Reebok/AHL rookie of the month for November after producing nine goals — including four game-winners — in 14 games. Butler currently ranks second among AHL goal scorers with 14.

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