The road hasn't exactly been kind to the Ottawa Senators this season.
At 6-16-3, the Senators own the National Hockey League's worst record away from the friendly confines of home ice. And a gruelling five-game stretch through three time zones begins Wednesday night in Buffalo against the Sabres (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).
But this is a group buoyed by three solid efforts at Scotiabank Place last week, including a 4-3 shootout loss to the NHL-leading Boston Bruins and 3-2 triumph, also in a shootout, over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night. If anything, the mindset has surely taken a turn upward in the Senators' first week under the direction of head coach Cory Clouston.
"We've played real good high-energy games," said Senators centre Jason Spezza
. "We probably deserved a better fate in the L.A. game (a 1-0 loss) and even in the Boston game, we played pretty well and made some strides.
"I think the general feeling is that it's going a little better around here."
Clouston himself has noticed "a nice progression" since taking over the team.
"We've showed there actually is a lot of character in that dressing room," he said. "We battled back from a 2-0 deficit (against Boston). We got up 2-0 (on Buffalo) as well and then we had all the momentum against us and we didn't break."
The change in the players' mindset throughout it all has been palpable. Even a five-game trip in seven days, which will also take the Senators to Philadelphia, Minnesota, Nashville and Colorado, seems a little less daunting right now.
"I think everyone has a little more jump in their step and that's the most important thing," said forward Nick Foligno
, who logged 20:29 of ice time against the Bruins and turned in one of his best games of the season. "We're learning so much and we're gaining a lot of confidence. Any time you do that coming to the rink, it's a lot more fun and that's just the way guys have handled it so far."
Added defenceman Chris Phillips
: "It has been a little more positive around here. We've played two pretty good games against two top teams. Good or bad, we really just have to look forward to the next game. We're going to do that but it's been a positive atmosphere around here the last little while."
Still, Clouston knows the trip will be a major test for his team.
"It's just another challenge to see how we can move forward," he said. "It's not easy playing five games in seven nights ... It's important for us to keep playing the way we're playing and keep moving forward."Neil on the mend; won't make trip
Senators forward Chris Neil
, who suffered a lacerated calf on Saturday night when cut by Sabre player's skate blade, is on crutches and won't make the road trip. No timetable has been set yet for his return. Neil said there are "quite a few stitches" in his calf, which suffered a deep gash near the end of the second period.
"It was pretty bad," he said. "All the guys were trying to get in there and see it between periods because it was like a science experiment in there. It opened right up, my whole calf, and (the cut) went through the muscle ... Now it's just give it time to heal."Around the boards
Forward Shean Donovan (lower body) and defenceman Alex Picard (upper body) skated in practice today, heightening the possibility that both could play as soon as Wednesday. Clouston labelled both as "very close" for the Sabres game ... Jason Smith sat out practice today but Clouston said he was given a day off to rest "a couple of bumps and bruises."