On the surface, it might seem like one of those meaningless season-ending games, with little on the line for either team.
But provincial rivalry aside, Ottawa Senators head coach Cory Clouston doesn't figure he'll need any special motivational words before his team closes out its 2008-09 season on Saturday night in Toronto against the Maple Leafs (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).
In his mind, the Senators' 19-10-4 record under Clouston's direction – much of that success hard-earned – should speak for itself. Especially in light of the fact Ottawa has known for awhile that it would most likely miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1996.
Saturday's game won't affect the standings in any way. The Senators (36-34-11) are locked into 11th spot in the Eastern Conference, while the Leafs (33-35-13) will finish 12th.
"I’ve been very happy with it," he said earlier today about the way the Senators have pushed hard to the finish line. "We’ve shown resiliency, we’ve shown some work ethic and we’ve battled hard. We’ve played some very good hockey clubs as of late and some teams that are playing for something. They’re not just going through the motions.
"We approached it as we were playing for something. It wasn’t a playoff position, but it was for pride, it was for each other. It was to try to create momentum for the summer. So they weren’t nothing games to us."
Clouston also doesn't buy the suggestion that the Senators have been playing pressure-free for several weeks now because they'd become such a playoff longshot.
"We’ve shown resiliency, we’ve shown some work ethic and we’ve battled hard. We approached it as we were playing for something. It wasn’t a playoff position, but it was for pride, it was for each other. It was to try to create momentum for the summer. So they weren’t nothing games to us." - Cory Clouston
"I understand that some people may think there wasn’t a lot of pressure for us," he said. "But our guys felt pressure. They knew that if they didn’t work hard and they weren’t playing hard, they were going to be criticized harshly and rightly so. They wanted to continue to play well and I think they’ve done that."
Their coach expects more of the same on Saturday night in Toronto. And Clouston doesn't believe the fact the game is against the Senators' biggest rival provides any extra inspiration for his troops.
"A little bit of passion would be fine," he said. "If there’s a little bit of extra intensity because of that rivalry, I think that’s great. That’ll keep us involved in the game mentally and physically and emotionally.
"I think it’s going to be two teams battling hard. It’ll be two teams trying to win the game and I think it’s going to be a very good game."Sens prospects hitting the road
Defencemen Erik Karlsson
and Patrick Wiercioch
, the Senators' top two picks in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, are making the trip to Toronto to watch the season finale. Both were also on hand Thursday night at Scotiabank Place and Clouston believes the experience will prove valuable to both prospects down the road.
"I just think it’s really important to get them immersed in this environment," he said. "I couldn’t imagine being 18 years old and coming into this type of situation and how that would make me feel going through the summer and how hard I would train wanting to get here and being involved in that. It’s a win-win situation for everybody."Around the boards
Captain Daniel Alfredsson
sat out practice today and Clouston termed his status "questionable" for Saturday's game, though he will travel with the team to Toronto. Alfredsson needed three stitches near his right ear after being struck with a puck late in the third period of Thursday's loss to the Devils, but Clouston said that the injury that's bothering his captain is "an accumulation type of thing." ... In Alfredsson's absence, the Senators lines looked like this today: Dany Heatley-Mike Fisher-Jesse Winchester; Nick Foligno-Jason Spezza-Ryan Shannon; Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil; Christoph Schubert-Mike Comrie-Shean Donovan ... Heatley needs one goal Saturday to hit the 40-goal plateau for the fourth straight season and fifth time in his career.