The Ottawa Senators want to put the brooms to the Atlanta Thrashers.
But if the Senators are to polish off a sweep of their season series with the Thrashers, putting the clamps on Atlanta sniper Ilya Kovalchuk on Thursday night at Philips Arena (7 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200) has to rate as priority job No. 1.
Few teams in the National Hockey League – yes, including the high-flying Senators – have figured that one out yet. Kovalchuk leads the league with 27 goals, six of them (out of eight total Atlanta goals) coming in three games against Ottawa.
Reason enough for the Senators to bear down a little harder in search of a fourth straight win over the Thrashers this season.
“If you give (Kovalchuk) time to wind up, and he’s coming with speed, he’s pretty powerful,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
said after the team’s pre-game skate Thursday. “So I think we’d like to be on top of him and don’t give him a lot of room and space. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
The Senators, who whipped the Thrashers 7-3 at Scotiabank Place on Saturday, expect to see a different alignment this time around. Most notably, Thrashers coach Don Waddell appears set to put Kovalchuk and his other top gun, former Senator Marian Hossa, on separate lines to spread out the offence a little more.
“They know they got outplayed in Ottawa and I’m sure they’ve changed their lines since then,” said Alfredsson. “I’m sure they’re going to change the way they play, (with) a lot more forechecking here at home.”
Though they’re still missing three key players with injuries, the Senators continue to roll on without centre Mike Fisher (strained oblique), forward Patrick Eaves (separated shoulder) and defenceman Anton Volchenkov (broken finger). Others, though, have stepped up to help push Ottawa’s winning streak to six games, with head coach John Paddock getting more mileage out of penalty-killing aces Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly in particular.
“They’re playing more minutes and are certainly doing the same good job on the penalty kill and providing enough other types of plays on the ice for us,” said Paddock.
There’s still no word yet on when Fisher might be ready to return.
“He’s skated the last couple of days,” said Paddock. “That’s all I know.”
Eaves and Volchenkov, he added, are about two weeks away from resuming game duty.
Martin Gerber (16-4-2) makes his fourth straight start in goal tonight.
The Senators are back home to face the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Fewer than 100 tickets remain for the game.
After that, it’s off to Madison Square Garden in New York on Sunday (7 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200) for the Senators’ final meeting of the season with the Rangers before a two-day Christmas break.