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Opportunity knocks, Sens answer

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Chris Neil's game-winning goal Monday night against the Montreal Canadiens offered an example of the kind of effort the Senators need with some of their biggest stars sidelined by injury (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).

It seemed, upon first glance, a tale of two diverse paths that led them to the same desired result.

But Cory Clouston looks at the pair of victories the Ottawa Senators have manufactured since losing injured captain Daniel Alfredsson and he sees further evidence of a common thread that has existed since he first moved behind the team's bench 11 months ago.

"Character has never been a question from my standpoint, right from the time I got here," Clouston said in the wake of the Senators' 20th victory of 2009-10, achieved by rallying past the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 at Scotiabank Place on Monday night. 

"We’ve shown a lot of resiliency, we’ve shown a lot of character and we work hard. We do a lot of little things well."

That resiliency is getting the supreme test right now, with Alfredsson (separated shoulder) and No. 1 centre Jason Spezza (right knee) both out of the lineup for extended periods. But they're 2-0-0 since Alfredsson went down last week, including Saturday's 3-2 shootout victory over the Buffalo Sabres. In that one, Ottawa prevailed after squandering a 2-0 second-period lead. Monday night, they charged back from a two-goal deficit.

In both games, forwards Chris Neil and Ryan Shannon – who have a combined eight goals between them this season – found the back of the net. Neil crashed the net to jam the game-winner past Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak on Monday, while Shannon ended a season-long scoreless drought with goals in back-to-back games.

"With Spezz and Alfie down and Nicky (Foligno), it’s a big challenge for us," said Shannon. "There’s going to be pressure on guys that have less experience to step up, but it’s the opportunity that everybody wants. It gives you a chance to shine."

Added Neil: "It’s a team game. It doesn’t matter who scores. The bottom line is, we get the two points. We’ve preached that right from pre-season on. It’s not an individual player that wins you games, it’s a team effort."

That group effort could get a boost on Wednesday night, when the Senators (20-15-4) face off against the Northwest Division-leading Colorado Avalanche (22-12-6) at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). Foligno, who has been sidelined since undergoing surgery Dec. 18 to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee, took part in practice today and might get clearance to hit the ice against the Avs.

"With Spezz and Alfie down and Nicky (Foligno), it’s a big challenge for us. There’s going to be pressure on guys that have less experience to step up, but it’s the opportunity that everybody wants. It gives you a chance to shine." - Ryan Shannon
"I’ve still got to see what the doctors have to say, but I definitely feel pretty good," said Foligno. "I want to come back and help the team. It’s tough watching, so it’ll be nice to hopefully get to play (Wednesday).

"It doesn’t seem like I need to do too much – these guys are playing pretty well – so I just want to come in and play the way I know how, try to help fill the void where possible and add to the winning atmosphere we’ve got going right now."

They've been able to build that despite enduring a rash of injuries over the past month, all the while maintaining a grip on a precious playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

"We’ve got good depth," said centre Mike Fisher. "You look at the guys who are contributing now … Peter Regin had a good game last night and those (secondary) guys are stepping up. That’s exactly what we need. We’re showing that if we play as a team, we can win."

Even if the goals aren't always of the highlight-reel variety.

"The difference (Monday night) is our goals maybe weren’t quite as tic-tac-toe," said Clouston.  "We had a little more traffic and we had to manufacture our goals maybe a little bit the old way, kind of greasy."

Around the boards

Forward Jarkko Ruutu wasn't on the ice today but Clouston expects him to be ready to face the Avs ... Binghamton Senators forwards Ryan Keller and Martin St. Pierre have been chosen to represent the Canadian squad at the AHL All-Star Classic, set for Jan. 19 in Portland, Maine. Keller was reassigned to the farm today after spending two games in Ottawa following Alfredsson injury in a Dec. 23 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins  ... Winchester skated in his 100th National Hockey League game on Monday night ... Fewer than 2,000 tickets remain for Wednesday's game, while 4,000 are still left for the New Year's Eve visit by John Tavares and the New York Islanders (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).

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