|Chris Phillips and the Senators would love to close out their six-game road stretch on a high with a victory over the Penguins tonight. Ottawa has posted a 9-4-2 record since opening the season 1-5-0 (Getty Images).
It's the kind of matchup designed to measure a work in progress.
When the Ottawa Senators hit the ice against the Penguins tonight at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200), they'll be anxious to see just how far they've come in the early stages of their first season under the tutelage of head coach Paul MacLean.
Since struggling to a 1-5-0 start, the Senators have turned things around nicely, posting a 9-4-2 mark to rise above the .500 mark. Ottawa is also 3-1-1 on a six-game road trip that concludes this evening in the Steel City, recording points in four straight games. All of that, however, figures to get a test against the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins (12-6-4), who added Sidney Crosby back into their mix earlier this week.
"They've got a lot of depth, there's no question about that," veteran Senators defenceman Chris Phillips said with an eye toward the task at hand tonight. "And it's a great benchmark game (for us), if you want to call it that. You want to put yourself up against the best and see where you stand.
"In lots of situations, when you know you have a tough opponent, you rise up and we expect everyone to be at our chance tonight and we'll give ourselves a chance to win."
Count MacLean among those anxious to see how the Senators match up.
"Our last game in Vancouver (a 2-1 overtime loss on Sunday) was against an elite team in the league," he said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "And again here tonight in Pittsburgh, it's an elite team. We're measuring ourselves against the best teams in the league.
"We've had some success and we've had some nights that weren't very successful. This is another opportunity for us to come in here, be prepared and play the game the Senators way and see how it goes. But we're looking forward to the opportunity."
For young Senators such as 20-year-old blueliner Jared Cowen, it's a first opportunity to match wits with the likes of Crosby for the first time. If the Saskatoon native is nervous about it, he's not exactly saying so.
"He'll be one of the best players I've ever played against," Cowen said of potentially staring down Crosby at some point tonight. "There's great players all around the league, but he's got to be up there, for sure. I'm not really sure what to expect, but it'll be a good challenge, a good experience and (hopefully) I do well.
"One of the biggest things that can happen (is) you overthink it instead of just trusting yourself, which can be hard to do in these types of situations against those kind of players. Hopefully, it doesn't happen too much tonight, but I'm sure it will and it's not a big deal."
Around the boards
No lineup changes for the Senators tonight, meaning defenceman David Rundblad is again a healthy scratch. Craig Anderson gets the start in goal, with Marc-Andre Fleury getting the nod between the pipes for the Penguins ... The Senators have won at least one game in Pittsburgh in 10 of the last 12 seasons ... Ottawa plays its first home game in 18 days on Sunday, when the Carolina Hurricanes visit the capital. A reminder to fans that it's an earlier 5 p.m. start at Scotiabank Place ... Fewer than 500 tickets remain for Sunday's game.