|Filip Kuba and the Senators hope to bring home two points from Pittsburgh in what could be their final game at Mellon Arena, which is closing its doors after this season for a new Penguins home (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images).
There will be little time for nostalgia when the Ottawa Senators close out their season series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Unless they meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs, tonight's matchup (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200) marks the Senators' last-ever appearance at Mellon Arena. The building affectionately known as the Igloo – the only rink the Penguins have called home since joining the National Hockey League in 1967-68 – closes its doors at season's end to make way for the new 18,087-seat Consol Energy Center.
"I'd never really thought about it, that this would be our last time in here, " captain Daniel Alfredsson
said after the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "It’s a great building. It is. I think the atmosphere is always good here. We probably won’t miss the locker rooms, but the atmosphere on the ice is really good."
The Senators, who are riding a seven-game winning streak, hope to leave with a memory that's vastly better than the 8-2 beating the Penguins laid on them Dec. 23. That was also the night Alfredsson suffered a separated left shoulder on a first-period hit by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke, further depleting a roster that was already missing No. 1 centre Jason Spezza
As Alfredsson correctly points out, this isn't exactly the same team facing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pens this evening.
"We’ve got a good streak going behind us here," he said. "Playing Pittsburgh, we always know it’s a good challenge, but it’s a fun challenge. We’re a better team than we were the last time we were here. We’re playing better, we’re confident and we’re healthier as well."
They've also tightened up their game defensively in a big way, allowing a mere seven goals during the current seven-game hot streak. Goaltender Brian Elliott, who makes his sixth straight start tonight, has been a veritable wall behind an improved defence corps.
"(Elliott) has made the saves when we've needed them," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "He's played well, he's playing with confidence and just doing the simple things."
Most importantly, the streaking Senators have created some separation between themselves and the chasing pack in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Ottawa is seven points up on a group of four teams, with another four just a single point behind them. It's a messy scenario Ottawa would do best to avoid the rest of the way.
"I believe that two points (tonight) is very important, with the way our conference is and how tight it is, to separate ourselves from the teams behind us," said Alfredsson. "And at the same time, we’d love to climb. But the most important thing is to keep the distance behind us."
"I believe that two points (tonight) is very important, with the way our conference is and how tight it is, to separate ourselves from the teams behind us. And at the same time, we’d love to climb. But the most important thing is to keep the distance behind us." - Daniel Alfredsson
A win tonight would also pull the Senators to within three points of the fourth-place Penguins. There is also the growing possibility that Ottawa might be able to chase down the Buffalo Sabres for top spot in the Northeast Division, which would mean a top-three playoff seed. The teams meet three more times this season, starting Feb. 3 in Buffalo.
"It's something we have to strive for," Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray told the Team 1200's Sports Call
in a radio interview this morning. "We're not in the playoffs yet, but we're well on the way to that goal, so I think we have to strive for something more.
"First place (in the Northeast) and catching Buffalo is something to look forward to and it would give us an extra lift going into the playoffs. At least it should be a goal. We wouldn't be devastated if we didn't catch them, but it should be a goal."Around the boards
Defenceman Alex Picard and forward Shean Donovan are tonight's healthy scratches ... Ottawa's lines during the pre-game skate: Milan Michalek-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson, Nick Foligno-Mike Fisher-Alex Kovalev, Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil and Ryan Shannon-Peter Regin-Jonathan Cheechoo ...
Ottawa has won four straight on the road, improving its record away from home to 10-13-1 ... The Senators will celebrate Hockey Day in Canada with a Saturday afternoon matchup against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).