|Goaltender Alex Auld, Chris Kelly and the Senators hope to finish off their five-game road trip by shutting the door on the Colorado Avalanche tonight (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images).
They're just a single step away from a clean sweep of what has to rate as one of their most satisfying road trips in recent memory.
But after a cross-continent jaunt in the wee hours overnight, a weary bunch of Ottawa Senators will need to summon all of their resources to fend off the Colorado Avalanche later on tonight at the Pepsi Center in Denver (9:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
While the Avs stand 15th and last in the Western Conference and have the lowest point total (53) of any opponent the Senators have faced on their current road trip, the grind of four straight hard-earned victories and an overnight journey from Nashville figure to play into this evening's proceedings at some point.
"It's going to be a tough challenge," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston, who gave his players the morning off after Monday night's 2-0 blanking of the Predators in Nashville. "Colorado pressures hard, they're an aggressive team and they've got some guys who can put the puck into the net. We're battling our fifth game in seven nights, so there's the fatigue factor.
"But I think for the most part, we've been able to balance the (ice time) out fairly well. It's always better, when you've got leads, to be able to do that."
Clouston is sticking with the hot hand in goal, sending Alex Auld
(11-13-5) out for a second straight start tonight. Counting his relief appearance against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night, Auld has pitched more than five straight periods of shutout hockey on this trip.
"(Auld) played very well and looked composed," Clouston said after Tuesday's triumph in Nashville. "He just looked really comfortable in there. I thought he handled the puck very well at times and did exactly what we needed him to do.
"It's going to be a tough challenge. Colorado pressures hard, they're an aggressive team and they've got some guys who can put the puck into the net. We're battling our fifth game in seven nights, so there's the fatigue factor." - Cory Clouston
"We ended up giving up nine scoring chances, so our scoring chances were down. I thought (Auld made) timely saves. When we needed him the most is when he played his best and that's all you can ask from a goaltender."
Throughout their current five-game winning streak, the Senators have set the tone from the opening faceoff with an aggressive forecheck. A team that struggled to score and couldn't win on the road for much of the season suddenly couldn't be more confident when it hits the ice.
"Our defence are doing a great job getting the puck moving," said centre Mike Fisher. "That's allowing us to get speed, get pucks with speed and get it in. Our neutral zone (play) has been night and day. On our forecheck, we're just creating turnovers and because of that, we're allowed to use our speed and skill to go the other way.
"When you put those things together and start playing with the puck and get confidence ... that's what's happening right now."Around the boards
While veteran defenceman Jason Smith hits the 1,000-game milestone in career National Hockey League service, Nick Foligno
will celebrate a much more modest achievement against the Avs. The second-year forward suits up for his 100th game with the Senators ... Only one lineup change tonight: defenceman Alex Picard returns to the lineup, while Brendan Bell is out. Picard last played Feb. 1 in Washington, where he suffered a lower-body injury, but he's been a healthy scratch in recent games. "Alex has been out for a long time," said Clouston. "He's been patient, he's worked hard and it's just a good opportunity for us as well." ... The Senators return home to face the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for the game.