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Senators aiming to step back up

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
With his team searching for more offence, Craig Hartsburg did the old lineup shuffle earlier today at Scotiabank Place.

But it's a Texas two-step of another sort that concerns the Ottawa Senators head coach even more as he casts an eye toward the New York Islanders' visit to Scotiabank Place on Thursday night (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

He'd seen a seriously good vibe building in the team's dressing room after a 4-0-1 run that produced some of the Senators' best hockey of the season. But after back-to-back losses, including a 4-0 blanking at the hands of the Canadiens on Tuesday night in Montreal, the proverbial pendulum seems to have swung back the other way.

"We have a concern that we takes steps forward and then we take steps back," Hartsburg said in analyzing his 6-7-2 team. "You're never going to be perfect throughout the year but we have to try to get this thing back to where we're going forward and then not take the big steps backwards that we seem to have taken in the last couple of games."

The Senators have been starved for goals of late, scoring just once in the two losses. It led to some line-juggling during the team's practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place, with the most noticeable change reuniting Chris Kelly and Antoine Vermette on a line with Shean Donovan. On this day, at least, Nick Foligno slid into a spot alongside Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza, while the Daniel Alfredsson-Mike Fisher-Jesse Winchester trio remained intact.

"You can't be frustrated," Vermette said about the latest moves. "At the end of the day, you want to have a team that's successful and the last two games, we didn't win, so we're looking forward to getting back on track and having some good performances."

Added Spezza: "You've never satisfied when you lose hockey games. We're a team that can usually put the puck in the net and we have to get back to that."

At the end of the day, you want to have a team that's successful and the last two games, we didn't win, so we're looking forward to getting back on track and having some good performances - Antoine Vermette
Alfredsson said it's a matter of getting back to the formula that brought the team success after the 1-5-0 stretch that followed their return from their season-openers in Stockholm.

"We're better than we were," he said. "Coming back from Sweden, we were not playing organized at all. We're better (now) but it's still kind of a step back and now we've got to take a step forward."

In Hartsburg's mind, the scoring will come if his players get back to "doing things the right way."

"The goals and assists will be the result of work, competing, confidence and playing the team game," he said. "You do all those things first and you'll score. For some reason, we get away from that at times."

Ruutu hit with two-game suspension

In the wake of what it called an "elbowing incident" with Canadiens forward Maxim Lapierre on Tuesday night, the National Hockey League handed Senators forward Jarkko Ruutu a two-game suspension this afternoon. Ruutu will miss both ends of Ottawa's home-and-home set with the Islanders on Thursday and Saturday.

Following the announcement, the Senators summoned forward Ryan Shannon from the American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y.

"It is what it is, and I have to live with it," said Ruutu. "Like I said, I had no intention to do it, but accidents will happen and I’ll have to deal with the consequences."

The suspension didn't sit well with Senators general manager Bryan Murray.

“(We’re) disappointed that it is two games, but obviously the NHL has set a very high standard for a hit like thisthat I felt deflected off the shoulder to the head," said Murray. "Especially for a player with no history of suspensions, no history of even being called in front of the league. But we do have to abide by what is called. And obviously going forward, we know now that this is the standard for anybody that gets hit in the head area.”

Around the boards

Alex Auld (5-3-1, 2.08 GAA) makes his 10th start of the season on Thursday night. "He was the guy that gave us a chance at times in that game (against Montreal) to compete," said Hartsburg. "At the end of the night, you couldn't blame the goalie in that game. We didn't score a goal." ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for the contest against the Isles.

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