|The Senators hope to get an extra spark from Binghamton callup Zack Smith, who will be in the lineup tonight in Montreal (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
For the Ottawa Senators, it doesn't get much bigger than this.
At least not right now.
Back-to-back games against the two teams with whom they currently share fifth place in the Eastern Conference, with their eventual playoff positioning perhaps riding on both results. First a matchup tonight in Montreal against the Canadiens, then a return to Scotiabank Place to take on the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night (both 7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
With only three weeks remaining in the National Hockey League season, the tension will certainly be ratcheted up a notch or two this evening at the Bell Centre, where the Senators are in desperate need of a victory to end their five-game losing streak. So much so that Ottawa head coach Cory Clouston doesn't even want to consider the ramifications of it all.
"We’re not worried about tomorrow night, we’re just worried about tonight," Clouston said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "However many points you want to say (are at stake), it’s pretty obvious what it (means) in the standings. But we’re not focusing on that at all.
"We’re just trying to play the way we want to play and the way we need to play. That’s our whole focus."
He'd like to see more of the effort the Senators turned in on Saturday in Dallas. Though his team came out on the short end of a 5-4 score against the Stars, Clouston saw it as another step forward in terms of his team getting its game back on track. Ottawa is 1-7-1 since the Olympic break but is showing signs it is beginning to find its scoring touch around the net.
"We thought we played real well against Dallas but we didn’t come away with a win," said Clouston. "We’ve just got to carry that over into tonight’s game."
With only 10 games left to play, the Senators' 79-point total has them in possession of a prized post-season spot. But the ninth-place Atlanta Thrashers have crept to within four points on the strength of a four-game winning streak.
"We’re not worried about tomorrow night, we’re just worried about tonight. However many points you want to say (are at stake), it’s pretty obvious what it (means) in the standings. But we’re not focusing on that at all. We’re just trying to play the way we want to play and the way we need to play. That’s our whole focus." - Cory Clouston
But the Senators believe getting their own game in order is the key to maintaining their grip on a playoff position. Do that, captain Daniel Alfredsson
said, and the results will take care of themselves.
"We’re now 10 games away (from the playoffs)," said Alfredsson. "We’re just going to look at this as a really good stretch to find our game and do everything we can to go into the playoffs on a good note. It’s a matter of playing together as a team, sticking together and making sure you just go out there and give it everything you have every night now.
"We’re at the last stretch of the season and this is the best part of the season. We’ve worked hard to get where we are and looking at the standings today, we’re in good position. We’d like to be higher but we’re still in a good position. Let's try to get something going down the stretch so we can go into the playoffs feeling good about our game."
Clouston remains upbeat about the Senators' prospects going forward.
"That’s the only way you can be," he said. "We know what has happened, we’ve been in this situation before and we know what we have to do. It’s pretty simple."Around the boards
The last time the Senators played in Montreal, Zack Smith
's first career NHL goal started Ottawa on its way to a 4-2 victory. That Jan. 16 triumph was the second of what would turn out to be a franchise-record 11-game winning streak. Smith is being inserted into the lineup tonight and Clouston hopes he'll provide another spark. "We just need him to play the way he normally does," said Clouston. "He plays physical, he drives the net, he creates energy and he’s a strong power forward. He’s gets in on the cycle and that’s what we need him to do." ... Forward Milan Michalek
(left leg) and defenceman Filip Kuba
(upper body) are out tonight ... Brian Elliott makes the start in goal ... Clouston suggested "it is possible" Michalek's injury could be worse than originally feared, but added " I don't want to speculate. We'll just wait and see how the tests go." Michalek is scheduled to have an MRI on the injured leg back in Ottawa ... Fewer than 1,250 tickets remain for Tuesday's home matchup with the Flyers.