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Michalek 'one of luckiest people' to reach milestone

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators forward Milan Michalek will suit up for his 500th career NHL game tonight, when the St. Louis Blues visit Scotiabank Place (Getty Images).

For Milan Michalek, every day is a great day for hockey.

With apologies to 'Badger' Bob Johnson — the former National Hockey League coach who lived that saying every day — it might also apply to the sentiment Michalek will surely feel tonight, when he plays his 500th career game.

The milestone arrives as the Ottawa Senators take on the St. Louis Blues in a crucial contest this evening at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 100). The 27-year-old Michalek admits it's a number he didn't really contemplate when he first made the full-time move from the Czech Republic to the NHL back in 2005.

"I'm just proud I made it to the NHL," Michalek said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "It was my dream since I was a kid and it's my pleasure to come here every day. I feel like I'm one of the luckiest people ... to play in the best league in the world.

"I never really thought about (500). I just wanted to play every game and go year by year."

Michalek was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and enjoyed four productive seasons with the San Jose Sharks, who made him their top pick in the '03 lottery. He was dealt to the Senators in September 2009 as part of the Dany Heatley trade and has notched 20-plus goals twice in three seasons in Ottawa. Along the way, he's missed 37 games with assorted injuries.

"I was saying the other day I could have (played) many more games, but what can you do?" said Michalek, a 6-2, 225-pound forward with great speed. "I've had lots of injuries."

Much as he's "real excited" to put No. 500 into the books tonight, he knows that number pales in comparison to the one Chris Phillips will achieve in two days' time. The veteran Senators blueliner will suit up for his 1,000th career game — all of them with Ottawa — on Thursday night, when the Nashville Predators visit Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

Last month, both captain Daniel Alfredsson and defenceman Sergei Gonchar hit the 1,100-game mark.

"It seems like 500 games is so many," said a smiling Michalek. "But compared to (Phillips) and Alfie and Gonch, it seems like nothing. These guys have been in the league for so long and they have so much experience. They are great role models for everybody. I would be happy and lucky if I can get to 1,000, so we'll see."

Meanwhile, the Senators (27-21-7) woke up this morning in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings and mired in a six-game winless skid. With three games this week in the friendly confines of Scotiabank Place, there's a major opportunity to get themselves back on track — especially after back-to-back losses to open their current five-game homestand.

"It's huge," said Senators centre Zack Smith. "Not quite finishing the way we wanted to on our road trip and then coming home … we were pretty excited. Dropping the first two games was pretty disappointing, but it’s a great opportunity to get back (into it). There’s no better place to be playing than at home in front of our crowd.

"We’re still excited. We know we’ve got a homestand here for the next (week) and it’s a good place to get started."

Added Alfredsson: "Home is always important. We know, in general, you want to get your points on the road, too. You get them anywhere you can. But we know we have more home games than road games left, and we’ve got to try to take advantage of that."

Around the boards

No lineup changes for the Senators tonight, meaning Craig Anderson gets his 18th straight start in goal and forward Bobby Butler remains a healthy scratch. Blueliner Brian Lee (lower body) isn't quite ready to return ... Binghamton callup Jim O'Brien suits up for this third straight game, and Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean has been pleased with the work of the young forward. "I think Jimmy’s played real good, he’s given us some energy and he’s worked real hard," said MacLean. "He’s a player who’s played real well in Binghamton this season and we like to make sure we try to reward people when they do good things. If he continues to play well, we’ll continue to play him" ... The Blues have the widest disparity in the NHL between home and away records. They're 22-3-4 at the Scottrade Center, but just 8-11-3 on the road ... In Brian Elliott (15-5-2, 1.69 GAA, .938 save percentage) and Jaroslav Halak (15-9-5, 1.97, .922), St. Louis boasts the league's top goaltending tandem. Elliott gets the start tonight against his former team. "For us, it's a non-issue," Senators centre Jason Spezza said when asked about facing an ex-teammate. "We're worried about winning a hockey game and playing against the St. Louis Blues."

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