Upon first glance, it seems the longest of grinds.
Eight straight games away from Scotiabank Place for the Ottawa Senators, with not a lightweight opponent among them. Long, hard road might not even begin to describe it.
But as trite as it might sound, Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg prefers to look at a critical stretch in his team's schedule in a much less intimidating way.
"We really have to look at this game as one game at a time and not an eight-game road trip," Hartsburg said after the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "We can't look at it like that. We've got to play eight road games (in a row) but let's play one game at a time and see where it goes.
"I don't want to focus on (what happens) after Christmas. Tonight's huge for us to get off to a good start with this."
Tonight's game in Philadelphia against the Flyers (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) will surely test that single-minded approach. After a 0-4 start, the Flyers have surged to the top of the Atlantic Division with an 18-8-7 record. They're 7-1-2 in their last 10 games and an imposing 11-4-3 at the Wachovia Center.
"If you don't work against this team, you have no chance," Hartsburg said in defining the task at hand tonight for his team. "That's what this franchise has been about forever. They're tenacious, they work and they have some good players in (Mike) Richards and (Jeff) Carter. But they're a team that you better be ready to get your nose dirty and work against."
"We really have to look at this game as one game at a time and not an eight-game road trip. We can't look at it like that. We've got to play eight road games (in a row) but let's play one game at a time and see where it goes." - Craig Hartsburg
Defenceman Filip Kuba
will be the lone regular out of the lineup tonight. Hartsburg said he'll take a "mix and match" approach with his blue-line pairings tonight to make up for the absence of the Senators' top-scoring player on the back end.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson
(upper body) skated on a line with Mike Fisher and Ilya Zubov
during the pre-game skate, while Dany Heatley (flu) returned to the ice alongside Chris Kelly and Nick Foligno
. After missing 11 games while recovering from pneumonia, Dean McAmmond returns to the lineup tonight and will centre Shean Donovan and Jarkko Ruutu. The fourth combination is Antoine Vermette-Jason Spezza-Chris Neil.
With a 12-14-5 record, the Senators stand 12th in the Eastern Conference, eight points shy of a playoff spot. All of which adds to the urgency of the current road swing, made necessary because the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship is taking over Scotiabank Place this week.
"Right now, we have to be so focused every night," said Hartsburg. "We have to go through this stretch of games being ready every night to play. We've got to get points. That's the big thing through this stretch of games. We have to find a way to get points.
"Every game is going to be a battle. There are no bad (opponents) and we're in a situation where every night is going to be so important for us." Around the boardsAlex Auld
(9-8-4) returns to the Senators net tonight for his 22nd start of the season ... Centre Cody Bass will be a healthy scratch against the Flyers ... The Senators head to western Canada on Boxing Day for games in Calgary (Saturday), Vancouver (Sunday) and Edmonton (Dec. 30). The second half of their road swing takes them to Toronto (Jan. 2), New Jersey (Jan. 3), Buffalo (Jan. 6) and Boston (Jan. 8) ... All eight games during the road swing will be televised on Sportsnet, TSN or CBC.