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Senators aiming to land first blow against Coyotes

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators forward Peter Regin says alloweing the first goal early in a game is like absorbing a "punch to the head." It's something Ottawa wants to avoid at Scotiabank Place tonight, when the Phoenix Coyotes supply the opposition (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

Check out the NHL game notes for tonight's Ottawa-Phoenix matchup.

Rarely is it a decisive knockout blow.

But to hear Peter Regin tell it, surrendering the first goal of the game — which the Ottawa Senators have done much more often than not so far this season — can be a debilitating hit to absorb, let alone recover from.

"It's like a punch in the head, especially when you're not winning," Regin said following the pre-game skate in advance of tonight's matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200). "It's tough to come back all the time so I think that's the key, to come out strong and get the first goal."

The numbers in that area paint a rather stark and definitive picture for the Senators. They're 2-0-0 in the current campaign when scoring first, 0-5-1 when they don't. And with No. 1 centre Jason Spezza (groin) out of the lineup for a third straight game and a speedy, tight-checking Coyotes team in the house tonight, goals figure to be at a premium.

All of which makes a strong start tonight particularly imperative for a team looking to escape the clutches of a slow start to its season. It's also worth noting that Phoenix is 0-2-1 to date when allowing the opening goal of the game.

"That's a big thing tonight, coming out sharp," said Senators defenceman Chris Campoli. "At times, early on in games, we've been lackadaisical a little bit. We haven't gotten off to the best starts or put our best foot forward and (as a result) found ourselves trying to claw back in games. It's not easy in this league to do that, so we really want to get off to a good start tonight."

Added forward Nick Foligno: "You want to be playing with the lead. It's tough in this league to play from behind. Especially (giving up) one or two goals, it really gets you down and when you're struggling, it makes it that much harder. It's very important to get that first goal and get that momentum, and I think if we do that, we'll find ourselves playing a lot better hockey and, hopefully, winning a lot of games."

After enduring a road-heavy schedule to open the season, the Senators have a real chance to make hay in the friendly confines of Scotiabank Place. The Florida Panthers pay a visit on Thursday night (7 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200), then the Boston Bruins arrive in the capital on Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Win them all and the Senators will find themselves at the .500 level (5-5-1) entering November.

"That's a big thing tonight, coming out sharp. At times, early on in games, we've been lackadaisical a little bit. We haven't gotten off to the best starts or put our best foot forward and (as a result) found ourselves trying to claw back in games. It's not easy in this league to do that, so we really want to get off to a good start tonight." - Chris Campoli
"What better time than now?" Campoli said of the opportunity to turn the tide at home. "It's got to come sooner rather than later, because we don't want to find ourselves looking too far up at the standings. We know that and it starts tonight ... The expecation in this room is to win games, so we're going to be ready."

Spezza's absence from the lineup means the goals and the offence have to come from elsewhere, but captain Daniel Alfredsson believes it can be counter-productive for any one person in the lineup to feel the need to pick up the slack.

"When you're not playing well, nobody's really chipping in (offensively) in a good way," he said. "We've got to turn our game around and if we do that, guys will score and good things will happen. That's the approach you should take. You can't say 'okay, these guys need to score.' Everybody needs to do their part and as a team, we'll be good."

Head coach Cory Clouston also suggested it's important that the Senators keep their heads up, even when they're still spinning their wheels in the first month of the season.

"There are some positives," he said. "I know it's hard to (see) when things aren't going well. But we have to focus on what we're doing well and make adjustments (to correct) what we're not doing well. We can't sugarcoat things. We've got to realize we're not playing the way we need to be playing and we have to address those issues."

Around the boards

A pre-game ceremony is scheduled tonight to honour Sergei Gonchar's 1,000th National Hockey League game. The Senators blueliner, who expects to have about 10 family and friends in the stands for the occasion, knows exactly what will make it a perfect evening. "It's definitely going to be much better if we win tonight," said Gonchar, who made his NHL debut Feb. 7, 1995, against the Buffalo Sabres ... Brian Elliott gets the start in goal for Ottawa ... After serving a three-game suspension, Coyotes captain Shane Doan returns to the lineup against the Senators. "You get a player back like that who's their leader and a character guy ... We feel they're going to be a tougher team tonight than they were last night (a 3-2 overtime loss in Montreal)," said Clouston.

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