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'Only one way to go from here'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
They have been knocking on the door but have not quite kicked it down.

There is a growing sense in the Ottawa Senators dressing room that more good things may finally just be around the corner. It was an upbeat group that took to the ice on Friday morning at Scotiabank Place; barely 12 hours after the Sens pushed the Boston Bruins to the limit before succumbing to the National Hockey League's top team 4-3 in a shootout.

They are 0-1-1 under Cory Clouston's direction but the Senators' first victory with their new head coach was just a hair away. Now they get to take another crack at it on Saturday night, when the Buffalo Sabres offer up another stern test at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Then a five-game road trip begins Wednesday in Buffalo.

"The mood seems to be a little better around the rink the past couple of days," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "Cory's brought a lot of energy and we're trying to enjoy it a little more and get back to having fun. You can't beat yourself up every day."

At 17-25-8, the 13th-place Senators have slipped 16 points behind the eighth-place Florida Panthers. It is the biggest deficit they have faced so far this season in terms of chasing a playoff spot but if there is a sense of doom and gloom about that, it isn't showing.

"If you feel sorry and down on yourself and every time you come to the rink, you have your head down, all you see is frustration about the overall situation," said centre Antoine Vermette. "You've got to build on some positive things. In the last couple of days, we've been improving our game quite a bit and that's the way we have to approach it."

Forward Nick Foligno, who scored another highlight-reel goal in the game against the Bruins, added "there's still a lot of hope" in the Senators dressing room.

"What guys are enjoying right now is coming to the rink and knowing we're getting better. We saw in the past two games that we're putting a better product on the ice and I think that's exciting for a lot of guys, knowing that there is only one way to go from here and that's up." - Nick Foligno
While one might suggest bringing more fun to the rink is an important part of it all, Clouston sees it a slightly different way.

"It's more of a feeling inside that you worked hard, you accomplished what you wanted to do and that there is a bit of satisfaction there," he said. "Fun is a part of it (but) to me, it's more the satisfaction of a job well done and they feel good inside that they worked together, they worked hard and they did what they wanted to do."

He is encouraged that his message seems to be sinking in.

"They're a good group of guys, they really are," said Clouston. "There has been a lot of criticism (of the team) but they really want to listen and learn. I think they believe in what we're trying to teach them. It's been a short period of time but I think they believe if they stick with it, they're going to have success from it."

Around the boards

Forward Jarkko Ruutu, who took a shot off the foot Thursday night, sat out practice today. Clouston termed it a "precautionary" move only ... Defenceman Alex Picard (upper body) returned to practice with the team and Clouston said it is "probable" he will suit up against the Sabres. "We'll see how he feels tomorrow," he added ... Fewer than 2,500 tickets remain for the game against the Sabres, the Senators' last home appearance until Feb. 19.

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