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Senators back home for holidays

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
In a month that demanded a certain road warrior mentality, the Ottawa Senators were surely up to the test.

And now, with a stellar 7-1-1 December road record now officially in the books, the Senators hope to soar into a new year with an equally strong performance in the friendly confines of Scotiabank Place. First up are the New York Islanders on Thursday night (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200). Then the Washington Capitals pay a visit on Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) to round out 2007.

No doubt, the Senators don’t want a repeat of their performance before the home folks last Saturday, when the Chicago Blackhawks fled the capital with a 4-3 overtime victory in their back pockets.

It’s been a bit of a familiar tale in recent weeks – the Senators are 1-3-2 in their last six home games. But it’s hardly cause for alarm in the Ottawa dressing room.

“Probably just coincidence,” Senators forward Dany Heatley said when asked about the team’s recent home-ice efforts. “I don’t think there’s really too much to read into that. We’ve comfortable playing in front of our fans and, especially this month, we haven’t played at home a lot.

“It’ll be nice to play a game here during the holidays. It should be a fun one.”

Centre Jason Spezza rightly pointed out that the bulk of that home-ice skid, if you will, happened to occur during the Senators’ seven-game winless streak that began in late-November.

“The record probably looks that way because we had our seven-game losing skid and most of them were here,” he said. “Outside of that, we’ve played well on the road. We won simple hockey games and I think we’ve generally played pretty well at home.

“Just that little stretch messed us up a bit, but we hope to get back on track.”

What’s been missing, head coach John Paddock suggested, is a little bit more of a finishing touch on home ice.

“A rink’s a rink. It’s the same size ice surface out there,” Paddock said after Thursday morning’s optional team skate. “We know our fans our great, but we (need to) play the game right. For whatever reason, we haven’t played right (at home).

“I guess, in a way, we’re finding ways not to finish the deal. But I think it’s (about) playing the game right … focus and play it right. We’ve proven over the course of the season that we’ll come out on top most nights (when we do that).”

Their 24-8-4 overall record – and a nine-point bulge atop the Eastern Conference – offer evidence of that. The Islanders, meanwhile, are back among a pack of teams already in a wild battle for playoff positioning. And they arrive at Scotiabank Place without goaltender Rick DiPietro, who left Wednesday night’s 4-3 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs with a knee injury.

Backup Wade Dubielewicz starts tonight against the Senators’ Martin Gerber (18-5-1), who’s on a two-game winning streak.

The Senators, meanwhile, will have to do without defenceman Joe Corvo (strained groin) for a third straight game. The blueliner didn’t give any indication Thursday morning of a possible return date.

“It doesn’t seem to be progressing right now,” he said. “It’s kind of stuck where it is … It’s pretty frustrating. I’d rather have a broken bone, where you know it’s going to heal. With a muscle-type thing, you never know when it’s going to feel good.

“I’ve never had anything like this before, so it’s kind of new ground for me. I don’t want to push it and really tear anything because that could be way more serious.”

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