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Senators face 'huge challenge' from Canucks

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
To a man, everyone in the Ottawa Senators dressing room is acutely aware of the enormity of the test that awaits them all tonight.

The Vancouver Canucks (34-10-9) are that good, that complete, that dangerous an opponent. And full value for their current position atop the National Hockey League's overall standings. But while the Senators (17-28-8) limp into Rogers Arena stuck in the throes of a nine-game winless streak, they're determined to take their best shot at the mighty Canucks tonight (10 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

"We understand who we’re playing," head coach Cory Clouston following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier this afternoon. "We know their strengths. It’s a huge challenge for us ... We feel we have to be at our best to win this game tonight, but there’s no reason why we can’t be at our best tonight.

"They’re going to force us to play well, they’re going to force us to play with and without the puck as well as we possibly can. We know it’s going to be a good challenge but our guys have a lot of energy. We’ve had a lot of good conversations over the last 24 hours and we’re excited about the game tonight."

To hear captain Daniel Alfredsson tell it, these are the kinds of tests that any team relishes, no matter what its current situation.

"It’s always fun to play those games," he said. "You have to be on your toes, you have to be good in pretty much all areas stay out of the penalty box, have a good power play and good goaltending. We’ll be ready tonight and, hopefully, we can come out and have a good start and force them to go on the offence."

Clouston has elected to start Brian Elliott in goal tonight. Elliott was pulled after surrendering three first-period goals in Saturday's 4-3 road loss to the New York Islanders, but Clouston is banking on the experience factor in choosing him over 19-year-old Robin Lehner.

"He’s a veteran," Clouston said of Elliott, who has lost his previous 12 starts. "We’re playing against arguably the best team in the NHL and Brian has to play like a veteran. It’s a situation where he hasn’t played well (lately), but we need him to step up and be the goalie that he was not too long ago."

Around the boards

The Senators will ice the same lineup tonight as they did Saturday's on Long Island, meaning forward Jarkko Ruutu and defenceman Matt Carkner are scratches ... Ottawa forward Alex Kovalev has notched goals in three consecutive games … Defenceman Sergei Gonchar is two assists shy of 500 for his NHL career … Goaltender Roberto Luongo, who has notched four straight wins, gets the start for Vancouver ... Ottawa last won at Rogers Arena (then General Motors Place) on March 13, 2004, edging the Canucks 2-1 ... After tonight's game, the Senators head to Alberta, where they'll close out a four-game road trip with games Wednesday in Calgary (9:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) and Saturday in Edmonton (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

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