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Senators breaking on a high

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Head coach Craig Hartsburg, Chris Kelly (centre) and Antoine Vermette watch their teammates take part in a drill during practice today at Scotiabank Place. The Sens are now on all-star break.

They fired pucks the length of the ice at an empty net, with boisterous cheers erupting whenever one found the mark.

Just a fun little contest on Wednesday to round out the Ottawa Senators' final practice before scattering in various directions for the four-day NHL all-star break. Then again, on the heels of a four-game stretch that produced seven out of a possible eight points, what's not to smile about these days?

"We're in good spirits," Senators forward Nick Foligno said on the morning after the Senators' dramatic 3-2 triumph over the Washington Capitals at Scotiabank Place. "We're playing some pretty good hockey now. We've got some things and areas that we can fix, but that's something we're going to address when we come back.

"We're playing well going into this break. It's always nice to see when you're doing the right things and winning games. Everyone's a lot happier."

Certainly, Brendan Bell's late-game power-play goal that vanquished the Caps sent the Senators into the all-star break on a high. While there's something to say about continuing to ride that moment, this is a weary group that couldn't be more thankful for some time off.

"We have a good rhythm and it would be nice to keep playing," said centre Jason Spezza. "But it's good to give the body a rest. We were on the road quite a bit over Christmas and you don't want that to catch up to you.

"Getting a few days off here... We can use it. We're a little bit banged up. As much as we're playing well, it'll be nice to get some bodies back, too, and get guys feeling healthy."

Head coach Craig Hartsburg agreed his team will welcome the four days off.

 "(The break) comes at a good time," he said. "We've got some guys banged up and they're playing hurt. It's nothing serious but I think it's hampering their game a little bit. So I think for some players, it's a good time for it."

When the Senators get back to work on Monday, the sobering reality won't have changed. At 16-21-7, the Senators stand 13th in the Eastern Conference, a dozen points outside of a playoff spot. But they do hold four games in hand on the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes.

"It's a lot less deep of a hole than it was a week ago," said Spezza. "We've just got to slowly win games and start climbing. We're not focused on the standings. We're just focused on winning one game at a time."

That's the approach Hartsburg has tried to instill in his team over the last few weeks.

"We're playing well going into this break. It's always nice to see when you're doing the right things and winning games. Everyone's a lot happier." - Nick Foligno
"If we just keep taking it one day at a time and keep putting some wins together, hopefully we can get back to that point where everybody can say 'now they're in striking range,'" he said. "Right now, we're still a ways away. For us to get there, we have to focus on getting points. The eight-game road trip really set us back. We had a chance in six out of eight games in the third period to get points and we didn't get them and that's what really hurt us."

Still, captain Daniel Alfredsson acknowledged that climb won't be an easy one.

"It's tough to make up ground," he said. "There are going to be a lot of three-point games down the stretch, but we're going to keep going and, hopefully, make a real good push for the playoffs."

The four-day break should help them refuel for that charge, he added.

"Hopefully, we can get a lot of energy (from the time off)," said Alfredsson. "That's what we've been lacking the last few games, that little extra jump in our legs. Hopefully, we can get it back and keep going."

Around the boards

Forward Dany Heatley didn't skate in practice today but the Senators' lone representative in the all-star game is expected to be good to go this weekend in Montreal. "He took a shot (Tuesday) night in the calf and it swelled up pretty good on him," said Hartsburg. "It's pretty sore and he couldn't skate today, but we don't anticipate any problem for the all-star game." ... The Senators are hopeful defenceman Anton Volchenkov (upper body) will return to the lineup next Tuesday, when the Senators face the New Jersey Devils at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m.. Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). But Hartsburg said forward Shean Donovan (lower body) is "questionable" for that game.

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