|Goaltender Brian Elliott goes for his ninth straight victory tonight when the Senators face off against the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center in Raleigh (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images).
They are the National Hockey League's hottest team.
But the Ottawa Senators, currently on a 9-1-0 roll, won't be the only team flying high into tonight's matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C. (7 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200). The home side has been on a bit of a run itself, compiling a 7-1-2 mark in its last 10 games to surge into fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Senators come into the game on a five-game winning streak; Carolina has won its last four.
"(The Hurricanes) are playing very well," Senators head coach Cory Clouston said after his team's pre-game skate earlier today at the RBC Center. "They're a quick team.
"They have three lines that can score and are dangerous and come with a lot of energy. So we expect a tough game tonight."
Tonight's game marks the beginning of a five-game road swing that will also see the Senators face off against the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday, the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday, the Florida Panthers on March 31 and the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins on April 2.
"It's a tough trip," said Senators centre Jason Spezza
. "Looking at the schedule at the start of the year, we knew it was going to be (that way). We didn't know where we'd stand but we're playing a lot of hockey games against a lot of desperate teams.
"It's just a lot of games in a short period of time, so it's going to be tough."
This road stretch will also go a long way toward determining the Senators' playoff fate. After moving to within seven points of a post-season berth on the weekend, Ottawa saw the gap grow to nine on Tuesday night when the Montreal Canadiens doubled up on the Thrashers 6-3. Two of the other teams the Senators are trying to chase down – the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres – meet tonight in western New York.
Still, the Senators know they've got to take care of their own business first.
"It's a tough trip. Looking at the schedule at the start of the year, we knew it was going to be (that way). We didn't know where we'd stand but we're playing a lot of hockey games against a lot of desperate teams. It's just a lot of games in a short period of time, so it's going to be tough." - Jason Spezza
"With the position we're in, it's really easy to just focus on our game," said goaltender Brian Elliott (15-4-3), who will aim for his ninth straight victory tonight. "We really can't worry about anybody else. It really comes down to controlling what you can control and that's what we're trying to do."
Added defenceman Chris Campoli: "We've just got to keep playing our game and that's the main focus. That's why we're having so much success, so if we start worrying about the wrong things, it'll take away from that. We need to just keep playing our game and doing the little things it takes to win hockey games and finding ways to do it."
The Sens are also buoyed by the 4-0-1 road trip they compiled in mid-February that helped kick-start the turnaround Clouston has engineered since taking over as Ottawa's bench boss.
"Pretty much everybody is playing better now and has the confidence that we can win any game we're going into," said captain Daniel Alfredsson
. "Carolina is a perfect example. They're really hot but we know if we're ready and we come out hard, we will win that game. It's a good feeling to have."Around the boards
Defenceman Anton Volchenkov (lower body) took the pre-game skate this morning and will return to the lineup against the 'Canes ... Clouston will move Christoph Schubert up to a forward position and make Shean Donovan a healthy scratch. "He's played well the last couple of games," Clouston said of Schubert. "He's been very good, whether we've used him at forward or defence, and he's killed some penalties for us and been very effective. He's had a physical presence as well." ... Ottawa is 2-1-0 against the Hurricanes this season, winning both games at Scotiabank Place after dropping a 2-1 decision Nov. 7 in Raleigh.