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Senators eager to strike early as road trip nears end

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
They've become the masters of the third-period comeback.

But as they get deeper into a grinding month of road play, the Ottawa Senators admit they'd like to get back to seeing how the other half lives. So it is that they plan to be the ones striking early in tonight's matchup against the Los Angeles Kings (10:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) at the Staples Center, a building that hasn't exactly been kind to the Senators over the years.

In their last five outings — all but one of them on the road — the Senators have surrendered the first goal. While they rallied to win three of those contests, it's not a way to make a living against the Kings, one of the National Hockey League's most stingy outfits defensively.

"Especially with all the games we've played lately, I think it would be beneficial for us to get a lead here," Senators centre Jason Spezza said following the team's pre-game skate earlier today. "It's an easier game to play when you have a lead, so we want to get off to better starts. We've talked about it and, hopefully, we can execute it tonight."

With that thought in mind, Senators head coach Paul MacLean has elevated Bobby Butler to the first line alongside matchup, hoping they can recreate some of the offensive magic they've enjoyed together in the past. While Butler — who was a scratch in Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks — has recorded only five goals in 38 games this season, three of them have been game-winners.

"Every goal he scores for us is important, but we'd still like to see him have more production as a player offensively," MacLean said of Butler. "But he's also played well and worked very hard on the defensive side of his game this year, and he's done a really good job of that. The Kings are a team that's playing real well defensively and we have to make sure we're doing the same thing."

Butler, who notched 10 goals in 36 games as rookie last season, says he's up for the challenge.

"Definitely, I feel good (about it)," he said. "I'm just going to go play and have fun. It's just another rink. I had the night off the other night, so I feel fresh and ready to go."

MacLean hasn't been unhappy with the way his team has started games, but he's like to see that effort reflected in better production on the scoreboard.

"Our starts have been pretty good," he said. "We haven't scored the goals, but I think we've played better at the start of games. A big part of our team is we always try to work for the next goal. Maybe we should say we should work for the first goal. We'll try that tonight."

Around the boards

The Senators have gone 5-1-0 so far in what many believed would be a season-defining stretch of road games, with another test coming Tuesday night in Phoenix against the Coyotes (9 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). Spezza said he and his teammates, weary as they may be, intend to push hard right through to the NHL all-star break, which begins Wednesday. "It's been a tough stretch of games, but we can see the end," he said. "We know there's only two games left. We have five days off coming up, so we should be leaving everything out there and taxing ourselves, and then we'll get a little rest." ... Craig Anderson makes his 13th straight start in goal for Ottawa tonight ... With Butler back in the lineup, rookie Andre Petersson — who made his NHL debut on Saturday — will sit out. So, too, will blueliner Matt Carkner, with Mark Borowiecki drawing back into the lineup.

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