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New-look Sens aim to ground Wings

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators aren’t going quietly into the Olympic break.

At least not on the roster news front.

After arriving in Detroit in the wee hours, centre Matt Cullen will make his Senators debut tonight when the Senators face off against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

Flight delays kept the versatile Cullen, who was obtained from the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday in exchange for defenceman Alex Picard and a second-round draft pick, from arriving in the Motor City until 3 a.m.

“It was a long day,” said Cullen. “I finally got in, got a good sleep, and it was good to get on the ice and get to know the guys,” said Cullen, who joins a Senators team that is riding a 13-1-0 hot streak. “It’s fun to come to a team that’s playing this well and has that excitement around it. Hopefully I can contribute, and play and fit in wherever they want me to.

“There will be some nervous energy (tonight), especially trying to fit into a group that’s playing as well as these guys are. You always want to help and be a positive contributor. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do that.”

To start the game, at least, Senators head coach Cory Clouston will put Cullen on a line with Alex Kovalev and Danish rookie Peter Regin. In that alignment, the latter slides over to the wing and Cullen — who’ll wear No. 7 — assumes his natural centre position.

“We don’t want to completely overhaul our lines,” Clouston said following the Senators’ pre-game skate. “We want to keep as much consistency as we can. (Jesse) Winchester’s line stays the same, (Mike) Fisher’s line stays the same and we’re keeping (Jason) Spezza and (Milan) Michalek together. And Peter and Kovy stay together.

“We’re playing well, so we don’t need to overhaul anything just because we bring one guy in. That was basically our thought there.”

Conspicuous by his absence is forward Jonathan Cheechoo, who cleared National Hockey League waivers at noon today and has been assigned to the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League. He’ll suit up for the B-Sens for their Sunday afternoon home matchup with the Rochester Americans.

“The intent is for him to report to Binghamton and, hopefully, he’ll play well and score some goals and get a little confidence back in that part of his game,” said Senators general manager Bryan Murray said of Cheechoo. “Then we’ll see where we go after that.”

Cheechoo, a former Rocket Richard Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goal scorer (in 2005-06), has found the back of the net only five times in 61 games in Ottawa this season. He and Michalek were acquired from the San Jose Sharks in September in the Dany Heatley trade.

“His ability around the net should be better than it is,” said Murray. “We think that the Calgary game (on Tuesday), in particular, he was real good but he didn’t finish. He’s so tentative right now and he’s such a good guy and he’s trying so hard to get his game back. Hopefully, he’ll have a little success (in Binghamton) and we will have another look at him and I told him that will be the case.”

The Senators will also have a different look on the blue line, with Erik Karlsson out with a shoulder injury and Chris Campoli also now sidelined with a left MCL injury that Clouston said could keep him out for up to six weeks.

Brian Lee and Derek Smith have been summoned from Binghamton for tonight’s game and Sunday’s road test in Uniondale, N.Y., against the Islanders (5 p.m., no TV, Team 1200) — the Senators’ last game before the Olympic break.

“We’ve got some injuries, we’ve got some banged-up bodies and it’s always nice to have a bit of a break,” Clouston said with an eye toward the two-week shutdown. “When you’re on a roll, you don’t want things to end, but the rest will do everyone some good.”

Brian Elliott makes his 13th straight start in goal tonight.

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