by Todd Anderson
The Ottawa Senators will try to strengthen their hold on fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings tonight when they host Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Gary Roberts and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins at Scotiabank Place. With 81 points, the Senators enter the game leading the Penguins by two points, but Pittsburgh has played one less game.
The Senators and Penguins are set to face off on two other occasions before the regular seasons ends, and Senators head coach Bryan Murray knows Pittsburgh will be a tough opponent down the stretch and for years to come.
"We knew (the Penguins) were going to be a very good hockey team," Murray said after his team's morning skate today. "When you have top young players like that, it gives you opportunity. When you get veteran people (Gary Roberts and Georges Laraque were acquired at the NHL trade deadline last week), it addresses issues in the dressing room. These guys have been there before. They've competed hard in the playoffs and they're an example for the young guys to follow."
Leading the way for Pittsburgh this season is phenom Sidney Crosby who leads the NHL with 98 points. Senators alternate captain Chris Phillips spoke about what it'll take to keep Crosby in check tonight.
"Like any time you play against a top-ranked player, you have to be in his face as much as possible. You try to stay on him and not give him time with the puck. These are fun games. You have to raise your level when you play the best players in the league."
While Crosby will be a focus, Phillips' defensive partner Anton Volchenkov says other Penguins can also hurt you.
"Pittsburgh is playing very good, and it's not just Crosby. They have Malkin, Roberts, (Sergei) Gonchar, (Jordan) Staal. They're a pretty solid team. Marc-André Fleury is a good goalie, too."
After missing practice yesterday with a sore shoulder Senators forward Peter Schaefer will be in the lineup tonight. Chris Kelly will be a game-time decision with a wrist injury.