|Chris Kelly and the Senators hope to build on the "character point" they earned against the Maple Leafs on Saturday despite battling a vicious flu blug (Getty Images).
They boarded a westward bound plane full of hope and good health.
And given what the Ottawa Senators were forced to endure over the last few days, that's truly saying something.
Perhaps the best news to emerge from Senators practice earlier today is that the flu bug that had crippled the team so badly appears to have finally exited their dressing room. That means a relatively healthy squad should be primed and ready to face off against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night (9:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) to launch a three-game western Canadian road trip.
They'll need to be, given that even the lowly Oilers — the National Hockey League's worst team — have been relatively hot lately and figure to offer a stern test. Then come visits to Calgary on Thursday (9:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) and Vancouver on Saturday (10 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). But with his team 0-2-1 since the Olympic break ended, Senators head coach Cory Clouston's wants to worry about winning the first one for starters.
"Every game is important," said Clouston. I’m just worried about Game No. 1, which is tomorrow night, and just go from there. That’s how we have to approach it. Just (take) the little steps that will hopefully lead to a real good road trip and it starts tomorrow night.
"We talked to the guys and told them we can’t take (Edmonton) lightly. They understand the importance of just getting that first game under our belt, playing a real good solid game and knowing Edmonton is a real tough opponent."
Mind you, the Senators might face no tougher foe on this trip than the nasty flu bug that benched captain Daniel Alfredsson
and Peter Regin
on Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Several more players were operating at well below 100 per cent, making the point Ottawa earned for a 2-1 shootout loss a victory of sorts.
"To see some of the guys coming to the room before the game … they didn’t look well at all and you could tell that some guys were battling throughout the night," said forward Chris Kelly, one of the few players who wasn't bitten by the flu bug. "I give those guys a ton of credit for showing up for 65 minutes and playing through that.
"It was an intense game, a physical game and in a 1-1 game, you can’t take a shift off, especially in the third period."
"I think that was real important, that last game. It made us show our character. We came back (from the break) with maybe not the same competitiveness that we had before the break, but I thought that game showed some real competitiveness. It was just a gritty, gutsy (effort). That type of thing is what we need to bring on the road with us and hopefully, with everybody healthy, it should be okay." - Cory Clouston
Added centre Jason Spezza
: "There’s never a good time to lose a point but to get a point out of game like that … it was pretty bad in here and guys were feeling not too good. It was one of those weird things that comes along it seems like once every four or five years. But the guys battled through it and it was good to get the point."
Clouston believes it can be a rallying point for the Senators going forward.
"I think that was real important, that last game," he said. "It made us show our character. We came back (from the break) with maybe not the same competitiveness that we had before the break, but I thought that game showed some real competitiveness.
"It was just a gritty, gutsy (effort). That type of thing is what we need to bring on the road with us and hopefully, with everybody healthy, it should be okay."
With a trio of western Canadian teams no doubt looking to make amends for losses suffered at Scotiabank Place earlier this season, the Senators know there's a real challenge awaiting them in the week ahead. There's also the matter of keeping pace with the Buffalo Sabres in the battle for top spot in the Northeast Division. The Sabres (35-20-9) currently hold a two-point lead over Ottawa (36-25-5).
"We know the importance of this trip and it’s not going to be easy," said centre Mike Fisher. "We’re preparing for three tough games and getting ourselves ready. We know we’ve got to be better and we know there’s parts of our game that we’ve got to improve. We’re about to do that. Edmonton’s not going to be easy tomorrow night, that’s for sure."Around the boards
Forward Nick Foligno
, who's been sidelined since Feb. 1 with a broken right fibula, is moving closer to a return to game action. Clouston suggested it could happen later this week. "He may not leave with us (on the road trip) but he may join us in a few days," said Clouston ... Defenceman Filip Kuba
(lower body) is doubtful for the games this week. "Not a lot of improvement," Clouston said when asked about the veteran blueliner's status.