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Senators gearing up for test from Crosby, Penguins

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators

Practice, as the old saying goes, makes perfect.

While the Ottawa Senators aren't exactly read to claim such lofty status, they're anxious to see how much three days' worth of practice at home will help them stack up against the Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Black Friday at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

"We'll find out tomorrow night," Senators head coach Paul MacLean said earlier today when asked how much the practice time has helped his team over the last three days. "It was a good opportunity for us to improve on our game. We won't know (how much difference it made) until we play a game and that won't be until tomorrow night. But practice was good the last three days."

The Penguins (12-6-4) present a decidedly difference challenge, now that Crosby has finally returned from concussion issues that plagued him since January. He burned the New York Islanders for two goals and two assists in his much-hyped first game back on Monday, but the Penguins weren't quite the same team in Wednesday's 3-2 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.

Still, nobody doubts it'll be a formidable test for the Senators (10-9-2), who went 3-1-1 in a stretch of road games that concludes with Friday's contest in the Steel City.

"(Crosby) is back and they're already a pretty wicked team," Senators centre Jesse Winchester said before he and his teammates boarded the plane to Pittsburgh. "So we're going to have to be at our best, play within our system and play with a lot of jam and be physical all over the ice."

Added MacLean: "It's a test for our team. Pittsburgh is like Vancouver. It's one of the elite teams in the league. We've played real well coming out of this road trip and we're still on it, but it's another test for us."

The Senators will head to Pittsburgh with their No. 1 goaltender good to go once again. Craig Anderson had to bow out of Sunday's game in Vancouver with a case of neck stiffness, but he's ready to "get right back on the horse" against the Penguins.

"I haven't really faced them too much in the past, so for me it's just go out there, stop the puck and do my job," said Anderson. "We just have to stick with our game plan, don't deviate from what's been working for us and let them adjust to us. That's pretty much all we can do, just worry about our own game."

Around the boards

Forward Chris Neil (ankle) skated on his own today before practice, but there is still no timetable for his return to game action. "The good news was that he skated today ... I think it was for 20 or 30 minutes," said MacLean. "We're going to have to see how he handled that but right now, there's no timeline. He has to get to practice first." ... The Senators' last victory in Pittsburgh came on Jan. 28, 2010, a 4-1 triumph at the old Mellon Arena ... Forward Milan Michalek is one point shy from hitting the 300 plateau for his career.

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