A long, hard road awaits them just around the corner.
Meaning the Ottawa Senators need to make the most of their opportunities at Scotiabank Place while they still have them. Case in point: Tonight's matchup with the Atlanta Thrashers (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200), who sit five points behind the Senators in the Eastern Conference standings and absorbed a 5-1 setback in Ottawa just 13 days ago.
"They're a team that's desperate, much like we should be desperate," Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg said after his club's pre-game skate earlier today. "We've got to come out and have a great start. The last time (the Thrashers) were here, that was the key to the hockey game.
"We had a great focus and lots of energy early in the game and that's what we need here tonight."
The task tonight will be made a little tougher by the absence of injured defenceman Anton Volchenkov (lower body), who would have drawn much of the shutdown responsibility against Atlanta sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. Instead, Hartsburg said, much of that chore shifts to the shoulders of Filip Kuba
and Alex Picard.
"It's always fun to play the top-end guys and it's even better when you shut them down," Picard said when asked about tonight's challenge against Kovalchuk and Co. "We know it's not going to happen every night but we're going to do our best to shut them down."
"Where we are right now, we need every point we can get. Every game is very important and there's no time to relax. We've just got to keep going, have a good two games at home and take that with us on the road." - Daniel Alfredsson
Tonight's game also presents the opportunity for the Senators (11-12-5) to edge a little closer to the eighth playoff position in the Eastern Conference, currently held by the Buffalo Sabres (15-12-3). Not that it's their priority at the moment.
"We need to get back to playing really good hockey, really solid hockey," said Senators forward Nick Foligno
. "I'm sure we'll start climbing the standings when that happens. Tonight is a big step for us and I'm sure we'll come out with a big effort."
Added centre Mike Fisher: "We know how bad we need wins now and we've got to get on a big roll and that means playing hard every night, every shift. We've got to win and find ways to do it. It's a big time for us around Christmas, coming into the holidays, and we've got to be on a roll."
The holidays also bring along with it the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship, which takes over Scotiabank Place from Christmas Day through Jan. 5. That means a stretch of eight straight road games for the Senators after Saturday's visit by the Dallas Stars (7 p.m., no TV, Team 1200).
All of which adds to the urgency to make home ice count this week. They've been doing it lately: Ottawa is 5-0-2 in its last seven home games.
"Where we are right now, we need every point we can get," said captain Daniel Alfredsson
. "Every game is very important and there's no time to relax. We've just got to keep going, have a good two games at home and take that with us on the road."
Around the boards
Forward Dany Heatley's next point will be the 500th of his NHL career ... Hartsburg remains hopeful that Volchenkov can be available Friday when the Senators face the Devils in Newark, N.J. ... Centre Dean McAmmond, who's still recovering from a bout with pneumonia, is "unlikely" to play until next week at the earliest, Hartsburg added ... Martin Gerber (2-5-1) makes his second straight start in goal tonight ... Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for both tonight's game and Saturday's matchup with the Stars.