|Chris Neil and the Senators plan to give it their best shot right until the final game of the season, even if the playoffs aren't in the cards for them this time (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images).
Their goals and ambitions have clearly now moved in a different direction.
But that hardly means the Ottawa Senators have thrown in the towel on a mostly forgettable season. Point being that this is a group fully intent on making life anything but easy for every rival that crosses its path the rest of the way.
"We want to win as much as possible, but we also want to make sure we make it tough on any team we play against," forward Nick Foligno
said with an eye toward tonight's matchup at Philips Arena against the fading Atlanta Thrashers (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200), who are in dire need of a win to stay in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
"it would be fun to be kind of a spoiler, absolutely. It’s not the position we want to be in – we want to be fighting for a playoff spot – but if that’s the case, we want to make it tough on any team that plays the Ottawa Senators right now."
They've been doing just that over the last five games. Despite unloading six veterans in a shift toward a younger future, the Senators have found a way to thrive with a lineup chock full of Binghamton Senators callups in front of the rock steady Craig Anderson
, who'll make his sixth straight start in goal since being acquired from the Colorado Avalanche.
With Anderson's calming presence between the pipes as the surest of anchors, a young group of Senators keeps gaining more confidence with each game. All of which makes the Eastern Conference's current basement dwellers (21-33-9) a much more dangerous foe.
"There is a transition period between the American league and this league," head coach Cory Clouston said in reference to the B-Sens brigade currently on hand. "But the nice thing is, some of those guys had opportunities earlier on in the season and now they’re getting a second chance, almost. Now they’re that much more comfortable.
"I think they’re a little bit more confident and we’ve had more time to work with them and credit to them, they’ve gone out and executed probably as well as we could have expected."
Added Foligno: "You’re seeing progression and that’s so big on this team right now. We’ve had a long year of adversity and we want to see this thing turn around ... We’ve got some new faces and it’s just kind of injected some new energy and new life into our team. It’s amazing what happens sometimes."
There is also the matter of making an impression on Senators management, which is all important when it comes to a team set to undergo a major revamping heading into the 2011-12 campaign.
"I don’t think we’ve really discussed (being spoilers)," said veteran forward Chris Neil
. "We’ve just (talked about) what we can do in here. We’ve got a lot of young guys that are trying for jobs next year and some free agents that don’t have a job as well. We’re just playing for each other in here and we said if we go out and we work hard ... that’s what we demand from ourselves in here.
"We go out, we work hard and we can live with mistakes, as long as you’re working hard doing it. You’ve got four other guys out there with you in your units and if you make a mistake, they’re going to be there to back you up. We have that confidence in our guys that we can back each other up. I think it’s shown in our play lately and, hopefully, it keeps carrying over."Around the boards
Francis Lessard has fond memories of his days with the Atlanta Thrashers — after all, it's the team that gave him his first National Hockey League shot nearly a decade ago. Both no memory stands out more than the night during the 2003-04 season when he scored his first and only career NHL goal. "I was pretty open in front of the net," said Lessard, who was named the game's first star that night. "It was a good feeling to score the goal." Now he's back at Philips Arena in a visitor's jersey with the latest team to offer him an opportunity in the big show. "It’s been a long time. It’s been five years," said the 31-year-old Montreal native. "I had to wait a long time to get back into the NHL, so I enjoy it right now. I love the game. And you have to believe, because I’m here right now. You never quit because you never know what’s going to happen" ... With the Senators back in action Friday night at Scotiabank Place against the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200), Clouston elected to skip the pre-game skate today in favour of a video session and meetings.