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Opponents remain wary of Sens

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Alex Auld and Senators begin a season-long eight-game homestand against the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Place tonight (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images).

They're currently outsiders in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

But thanks in great part to their recent five-game winning streak, nobody is taking the Ottawa Senators for granted these days. Least of all the opponents who realize this isn't the same team that stumbled its way through much of the first four months of this National Hockey League season, putting itself in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons.

"Teams are expecting us to be better than earlier in the year when we played them," Senators centre Jason Spezza said earlier today. "We play a little more of an up-tempo game now and (opponents) are a little more prepared for it."

Added captain Daniel Alfredsson: "Other teams are ready for us now. They're not expecting an easy game and they're going to come out really hard."

The Senators expect more of the same against the Carolina Hurricanes (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) in the opener of an eight-game homestand at Scotiabank Place. The 'Canes, who have won four straight on the road, sit ninth in the Eastern Conference, just one point shy of the final playoff berth now held by the Buffalo Sabres.

Needless to say, every game is a big one for the Hurricanes at the moment. And they no doubt haven't forgotten the 5-1 whipping they took at the hands of the Senators back on Jan. 13.

"We're at the point in the season where we've got to expect every team's best game," centre Chris Kelly said with an eye toward tonight's opponent. "Everyone is playing for their lives and this is another team (in the playoff race). We've got to come out with a much better start than we've had in the past (few games) and play 60 minutes as opposed to 40 or 45 and letting teams get leads on us."

"Teams are expecting us to be better than earlier in the year when we played them. We play a little more of an up-tempo game now and (opponents) are a little more prepared for it." - Jason Spezza
If there's one key for his team tonight, Senators head coach Cory Clouston said it's not digging the same kind of 4-0 hole that doomed Ottawa in its previous two outings against the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens.

"We faced a couple of teams that were prepared for us," said Clouston after the Senators' pre-game skate. "I don't think teams take us that lightly right now. The reward for playing well on that road trip (a near-perfect 4-0-1 record) is that now you've got teams hungry and ready to jump on you right from the start.

"We may have had a couple of freebies before, at least at the start of games, but we don't now. We've got to make sure we're ready, like the opposition has been ready for us the last couple of games."

Campoli makes Scotiabank Place home debut

While Mike Comrie is no stranger to the situation, tonight's game is definitely something new for Chris Campoli, who'll play his first home game in a Senators uniform.

"It'll be interesting tonight for me, probably the first few shifts," said the newest Ottawa blueliner. "It's pretty exciting to play here and just the energy in the building, it'll be great to feed off that. It'll be a lot of fun and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity."

Campoli and Comrie, who played for the Sens during their Stanley Cup final run in 2007, were dealt to the Senators on Friday, with Dean McAmmond and a draft pick going the other way to the New York Islanders.

Around the boards

Alex Auld (11-14-6) has been tabbed as the starter in goal for the Senators tonight ... Defencemen Brendan Bell and Alex Picard and forward Christoph Schubert will again be the healthy scratches ... Fewer than 3,000 tickets remain for tonight's game, while 2,000 are left for Thursday's visit by the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) and 600 for Saturday's matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

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