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Senators finding ways to overcome adversity

by Staff Writer / Ottawa Senators
Defenceman Filip Kuba, who's been absent from the Senators lineup since suffering a broken right leg on the opening day of training camp, still isn't ready to return. But Ottawa should have forward Milan Michalek back in the lineup for Tuesday's game against the Atlanta Thrashers at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Cory Clouston couldn't help smiling as he pondered the possibility that finally seems to be just around the corner.

"That would be nice, wouldn't it?" the Ottawa Senators head coach said when asked about the prospect of icing a completely healthy lineup for the first time since February.

For the Senators, dealing with injury adversity has become almost a daily part of life. They finished last season with three top players on the shelf and it's been much of the same so far in this campaign. Yet somehow, this group has managed to stay the course in the face of it all. Even in the last week, Ottawa (7-6-1) fashioned a three-game winning streak without veteran defenceman Filip Kuba (broken leg) and speedy Czech winger Milan Michalek (knee).

"We've gone through a lot of adversity as far as injuries are concerned and, to me, that's a credit to the players," Clouston said following Senators practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "The guys have handled it and dealt with it very, very well. To me, that's going to give us some positive outcomes as the season goes along."

It's appearing much more likely that Michalek will be good to go Tuesday night, when the Atlanta Thrashers visit Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). He took part in his first full practice today since being sidelined with tendinitis in his surgically-repaired knee more than a week ago.

"It felt pretty good today," said Michalek. "We'll see tomorrow in the morning skate but if it feels like today, then I'll play for sure. I had some swelling (in the knee) that was bothering me, but I was able to calm it down."

Unfortunately for Kuba, his story isn't quite the same. There had been hope that the Czech blueliner, who's been on the shelf since breaking his leg on the opening day of training camp in September, would suit up against Atlanta. But Kuba said today that's "probably not" going to happen.

"It was a good day today, though," he said. "I felt better than it did the other day, but not (good enough to play) tomorrow. (The ankle) is still weak, so we'll work on strengthening it more and getting the confidence in it.

"I have to feel that I'm prepared to play. Until then, it wouldn't be good to get out there."

Although he's admittedly frustrated by his continued absence, Kuba has worked hard to maintain an upbeat attitude throughout his recovery process. His 2009-10 season was cut short by back surgery in April and Kuba is clearly itching to play.

"It's been a frustrating time," he said. "But I think I'm past it and I'm just looking forward to getting back. You can't have a bad day mentally. I don't think that helps. I'm being positive. It's better today."

That kind of attitude has served the Senators well as they've battled to overcome a slow start to the current campaign. But they've now won six of their past eight games and risen to seventh overall in the Eastern Conference after spending time in the basement early in the season.

"The opportunity was there for everybody to step it up," said goaltender Brian Elliott, who's started 10 straight games in the absence of injured Pascal Leclaire. "I don't think we could have been playing any worse. But the way everybody stepped up ... it comes from the leadership on down and you see everybody playing their role the best they can. That's what a good team does."

Around the boards

With Michalek on the verge of returning, the Senators have re-assigned forward Zack Smith to the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League ... Centre Mike Fisher and forward Milan Michalek took "maintenance" days off practice today, but Clouston expects both to suit up Tuesday night against the Thrashers ... Leclaire, who's been sidelined since Oct. 14 with a pulled groin but has been practising regularly for almost a week, is likely to be back between the pipes soon. "He needs to start playing here in the next little while," said Clouston ... Bobby Butler had a hat trick and Robin Lehner stopped 33 shots for the shutout as the B-Sens blanked the Syracuse Crunch 5-0 on Sunday night. That completed a weekend sweep on home ice for Binghamton (6-4-1-1), which also whipped the Adirondack Phantoms 7-3 on Saturday evening.

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