Check out the NHL game notes for tonight's Columbus-Ottawa matchup.
|The injury-plagued Senators will get a boost with the return of Alex Kovalev to the lineup tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Better now than when the games count the most.
In the meantime, a "frustrated" Chris Neil
will live with whatever layoff results from a left-knee injury he suffered Wednesday night during a collision with Andrew Peters of the New Jersey Devils. Head coach Cory Clouston suggested earlier today that the rugged winger is likely to be sidelined for 10-14 days, although both Neil and the team were still awaiting further medical test results.
Neil, who was limited to 60 games of action by injuries last season, was off to a strong start for the Senators this season and had been one of the team's most effective players in recent weeks. His goal Monday night sparked the comeback that allowed Ottawa to rally past the Washington Capitals 4-3 in overtime.
Needless to say, the knee injury is an unwelcome setback for Neil.
"It’s part of the game. It’s definitely frustrating," Neil said after the Senators held a team meeting in advance of tonight's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). "You feel like you’re in the games, playing hard and trying to contribute as best as you can out there. For the most of this year, I’ve done that.
"You feel like your team is going good and you want to be a part of it (and) not miss some games. But it’s not as bad now as if it was closer to the playoffs."
The loss of Neil further depletes an injury-riddled Senators lineup, although forward Alex Kovalev is back from Russia – he missed the past three games to attend his mother-in-law's funeral – and will suit up against the Blue Jackets tonight. With centre Mike Fisher (upper body) still sidelined, Kovalev's return is crucial this evening.
"What do we need from him? Just his game," Clouston said of getting Kovalev back in the lineup. "His last two games, I thought, were very solid for us. His conditioning (and timing), we’ll have to wait and see. (But) we expect him to hopefully pick up where he left off and play well for us."
It’s definitely frustrating. You feel like you’re in the games, playing hard and trying to contribute as best as you can out there. For the most of this year, I’ve done that. You feel like your team is going good and you want to be a part of it (and) not miss some games. But it’s not as bad now as if it was closer to the playoffs." - Chris Neil
On the bright side, the Senators could have a much healthier roster by Saturday, when they visit the Boston Bruins to kick off a five-game road trip that will take them to California (San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim) and Phoenix next week. Defenceman Anton Volchenkov (right elbow) is targeting Saturday for a return to the lineup and Fisher is hopeful he can do the same.
"Hopefully, I’ll be okay in a few days," said Fisher. "I don’t think it’s going to take too long. I’m hoping possibly (to play) this weekend. Hopefully, I’ll be okay for that."
Tonight, at least, they'll need to pull together in front of goaltender Brian Elliott, who'll make his second straight start since the Senators learned they'll be without starter Pascal Leclaire (fractured cheekbone) for at least four weeks.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson
said dealing with such adversity will go a long way toward determining the Senators' eventual fate this season.
"It's how you make it through stretches where you are a little bit short that are going to determine if you're going to be in the playoffs or not," he said.Around the boards
Tonight's game marks the return of centre Antoine Vermette to Scotiabank Place for the first time since the Senators dealt him to the Blue Jackets at the trade deadline last season for Leclaire and a second-round draft pick (Robin Lehner
) ... With Fisher out, Jason Spezza
will wear the alternate captain's 'A' tonight. "It's nice to get recognized as a leader," he said ... Keep an eye on forward Jonathan Cheechoo tonight. With nine goals and 21 points, he's got the best career scoring numbers of any Senator against Columbus ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets
remain for the matchup with Blue Jackets. It's also a Subway Savings Game
, with all regular-priced tickets available for 20 per cent off.