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Road warrior mentality keeps serving Senators well

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Colin Greening and the Senators are thriving away from home, posting the NHL's fourth-best road record to date, including a perfect 5-0-0 stretch in January (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images).
Many observers had suggested it might be their moment of truth.

The month that determined whether these Ottawa Senators were indeed for real — and in serious contention to land a Stanley Cup playoff berth.

So far, at least, give head coach Paul MacLean and his troops much, much more than just a passing grade. Since posting a come-from-behind 6-4 triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Place on Jan. 8, the Senators have taken their act on the road five times. And they're a spectacular 5-0-0 in the toughest stretch of hockey this team might well face the rest of the season.

First, Ottawa swept the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens. Now, on what should be the more arduous test, the Senators have knocked off the Toronto Maple Leafs and, on Thursday night, cooled off the high-flying San Jose Sharks 4-1. It was their first win at HP Pavilion in eight years.

"We’re very confident right now," Senators forward Colin Greening said after his two goals helped the Senators overcome an early barrage by the Sharks. "This shows that we’re a very good road team. You've got to be able to get points on the road, especially when we're coming on the west coast. We have a three-hour time change. This is really a tough place to play. Coming in here and being able to win, especially 4-1, is obviously a testament to how resilient we are."

Ottawa's play on the road has had plenty to do with its rise to fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. The Senators' 13-7-5 record away from home is the fourth-best in the National Hockey League. With 60 points overall (27-16-6), they're just 14 — and five wins — shy of their total for the entire 2010-11 season, and the current campaign has yet to reach the all-star break.

There's a chance to make even further hay on the road in the days ahead, starting with Saturday's matchup against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center (4 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). Ottawa's current five-game trip concludes with games against the Los Angeles Kings (Monday) and Phoenix Coyotes (Tuesday).

Asked about the Senators' road success to date, head coach Paul MacLean wouldn't point as any one player as the key, saying it's a group effort. An even dozen Ottawa players have been credited with game-winning goals so far this season.

"The whole group is playing real good," he said. "(Goaltender Craig) Anderson is playing real good, the defence corps has been real good and our centre men have done a really good job through the middle of the rink and we’re getting timely scoring from a different group every night.

"It’s all positive. I don’t think it’s one person in particular. The whole group is really dedicated to doing things right and trying to learn how to be consistent."

Forward Chris Neil, who'll play his 700th career NHL game on Saturday, echoed that sentiment.

"It’s been a team effort right from Day 1," he said. "We said that in camp. It’s not going to be one individual guy that’s going to win you a game, it’s going to be a group effort and it’s going to be a different guy every night that’s stepping up.

"But when you get good goaltending, it definitely helps ... Teams have come out strong against us in the first period and (Anderson) has weathered the storm for us and gave us enough to get back in the game. Then we’ve been able to take over."

The Senators got the job done in San Jose despite having their lineup reduced to 10 forwards by a pair of injuries, to Kaspars Daugavins and Zack Smith. However, both forwards took part in practice today at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif., and are expected to be good to go against the Ducks.

"They both appear to be making significant recoveries, which is good," said MacLean. "They’ve both played real good for us and they’re important players for us. Both of them are big parts of our penalty killing. We want them to play if they can. If they’re ready to play, they’re going to play."

Around the boards

Neil is about to become only the fourth player to suit up for 700 games with the Senators. "It’s an honour," he said. "I take pride in trying to be physical out there game in and game out, and just try to be consistent. That’s maybe part of the reason why I’ve been in an Ottawa Senators uniform for so long. Especially playing 700 games with one team, that’s pretty special, too" ... It's also a milestone day for captain Daniel Alfredsson, who'll play his 1,100th game on Saturday. "I’m happy I feel the way I do at this stage of my career and I’m still enjoying it," said the 39-year-old Alfredsson ... As a precautionary measure, Ottawa recalled forward Stephane Da Costa from the Binghamton Senators (AHL) earlier today. The Senators also have B-Sens forward Andre Petersson on hand from an earlier recall prior to this road trip ... MacLean has tabbed Anderson to make his 12th straight start on Saturday, when the Senators face off against the Ducks. He's on a 10-1-1 run, including 7-0-2 in his last nine road games ... Ottawa is 13-2-2 in its previous 17 outings.

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