At long last, their long and winding road has reached the front doors of Scotiabank Place.
Now it's up to the Ottawa Senators to make the most of their longest homestand of the season. Good timing for that, too, given that they're carrying a four-game losing streak into Friday night's matchup with the red-hot John Tavares and the New York Islanders (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).
But after escaping a January in which they played 10 of 14 games on the road with an 8-5-1 record, the Senators are merely happy to enjoy some time in familiar surroundings. It's enough to quickly erase the sting of Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the Bruins in Boston, a game Ottawa led by two goals late in the second period before allowing the Stanley Cup champions to storm past them in the third.
"It's going to be nice to be home for awhile and sleep in our own beds," said defenceman Erik Karlsson
following a brisk practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "We've been on the road for awhile now, so it's going to be a nice change. We have (four) losses in a row now and it's not something you want to have. We have to break that skid as fast as possible."
Senators head coach Paul MacLean looks at his team's February schedule — a much more manageable 12 games, with eight of them at Scotiabank Place — and sees a chance to right the ship heading into the decisive home stretch.
"The schedule was a little bit against us the last three games (of a western road trip) and then we come out of the break and play the Stanley Cup champions in their building," he said. "We had them 3-1 with 26 minutes to go, so it’s not like we played horrible. We take some confidence from the fact we played the Stanley Cup champions really well and had ourselves in a position to play 20 minutes and win the game.
"Now we get to come home. It seems like forever since we’ve been at home, and now we get an opportunity to play the next five games at home. That’s an opportunity for us to step up and that gives us confidence."
Added Karlsson: "The further we go into the season, the more important the games get. You've really got to pull through and hopefully, it's going to help us being at home for awhile now."
Thanks in great part to a sizzling 8-1-1 start to the month of January, the Senators (27-20-6) find themselves sitting in sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. But that's only five points better than the ninth-place Florida Panthers, with the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs also hot on Ottawa's tail in seventh and eighth place, respectively.
But centre Jason Spezza
looks at that same big picture and, despite the rough end to the month, feels the Senators should take heart in what the accomplished in January.
"We’re in the thick of things and we had a pretty successful month, when you look at it as a whole," he said. "It was a pretty daunting month and we could have put ourselves in a real tough position, but we’ve got ourselves in a position where we’re in the mix. Now we have some work to do the rest of the way, but the games are all important and that’s the position we wanted to be in."
Despite their current skid, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
believes his team is still on the right track, but needs to clean up "small mistakes that can be the difference" in a tight game like the one in Boston.
"We believe in what we’re doing and we know we don’t have to change a lot," he said. "We were up two goals with two minutes left in the (second) period (Tuesday) and if we don’t let in a goal there and play tighter, I totally believe we win that game. But that little mistake that allowed them to score at the end of period kind of hurt us and ... we’ve got to be mentally tough for 60 minutes to make life easier on ourselves.
"If we do that and keep the work ethic we’ve had, we’ll come through this."Around the boards
Veteran defenceman Chris Phillips
took a "maintenance" day away from practice after "taking a shot" in lower body late in the game in Boston, MacLean said. He's expected to be back at practice on Thursday. Phillips is currently on target to play his 1,000th career National Hockey League game — all of them with the Senators — on Feb. 9, when Mike Fisher and the Nashville Predators visit Scotiabank Place ... MacLean said defenceman Brian Lee (lower body) "has a chance" to return to action this weekend, when Ottawa faces the Islanders and Leafs (Saturday, 7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) on back-to-back nights ... The result of the Senators' homestand includes visits by the St. Louis Blues (Tuesday), the Predators and Edmonton Oilers (Feb. 11), a 2 p.m. matinee affair on Hockey Day in Canada