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Rugged road swing figures to test Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Admittedly, it's often one of the most overused clichés in sports.

But when the Ottawa Senators gaze toward a bruiser of an upcoming road trip and talk about needing to worry about one game at a time, they're merely employing sound thinking. There isn't a soft touch among the four foes they'll face in the next week, starting with Saturday's matchup against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

After that come visits to the Philadelphia Flyers (Monday), Carolina Hurricanes (Wednesday) and St. Louis Blues (Friday). The Bruins and Flyers rank among the Eastern Conference's top teams, while the surprising Blues are currently fourth overall in the Western Conference, just one point behind the leading Los Angeles Kings. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, have been a tough test for the Senators on home ice in Raleigh, N.C., in recent years.

No wonder, then, that the Senators (8-7-1) will keep their focus on the Bruins for now, then take them one by one thereafter. Needless to say, a good trip could do plenty to elevate their seventh-place standing in the conference.

"It's huge," Senators defenceman Matt Carkner said about the potential implications of this trip. "If we come out with a lot of points on this trip, we’ll be looking good in the standings. We’ll have a lot more confidence. But right now, we’re just looking at the next game. We’ve got to be strong, we’ve got to keep it simple and make the best we can out of it.

"No matter what, our philosophy here is to take it one game at a time. You can’t really look too far ahead because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what the importance of five games from now is going to be."

It's certainly the recommended approach against the Bruins and goaltender Tim Thomas in particular, who have been a nemesis for the Senators the last couple of seasons. Thomas blanked Ottawa 4-0 at Scotiabank Place back on Oct. 30 and is likely to be back between the pipes for Boston again Saturday.

"We’ve just got to shoot the puck more," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston, who hammered that point home emphatically during practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "Last night (in a 6-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks), we had a couple of opportunities in the second period where we had real good opportunities to shoot the puck and we tried to be a little bit too cute with it.

"Against a team like Boston tomorrow night, they don’t give you a lot so you can’t pass up (shots). You’ve got to keep things simple."

Added centre Mike Fisher: "We’ve got to find ways to score. We say it all the time … it’s just get in front of (Thomas) so he can’t see pucks and battle for rebounds, because he’s going to give up rebounds. He’s a (Dominik) Hasek-type goalie, where he’s all over. When he’s seeing pucks, he’s making those saves and that’s where we’ve got to do a better job."

The Senators could get a big lift Saturday with the return of Filip Kuba to the lineup. The veteran Czech blueliner, who's been sidelined since breaking his right leg on the opening day of training camp in September, sounded optimistic today about finally getting the chance to play.

"It was another good day again," he said. "It’s progressing, it’s getting better and we’ll see tomorrow morning how it goes. But it’s looking good. It’s just (about regaining) the confidence in being on the ice and being able to compete and things like that."

Around the boards

Fisher went through a pull practice today for the first time in about a week and said afterward he believes he's winning the battle against a nagging upper-body ailment. "I’m starting to feel better, for sure," he said. "Hopefully, I can get back to normal here soon. It’s been a tough go a little bit lately." Added Clouston: "It’s been a while since he’s practised, so that’s a positive sign. The big thing is, he’s got to skate. He still has his legs. He hasn’t been able to play as physical as he would like, but he’s getting a lot closer to that. I think today is the best he’s felt in over a week" ... Three Senators — captain Daniel Alfredsson, centre Jason Spezza and defenceman Sergei Gonchar — are on the ballot for the 2011 NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, N.C. Voting begins Monday on a variety of platforms ... Carkner is slated to play his 100th career National Hockey League game on Saturday. So, too, will goaltender Brian Elliott, if he makes the start ... With an assist against the Canucks, forward Alex Kovalev moved his career point total to 998.

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