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Senators ready for the stretch run

by Staff Writer / Ottawa Senators
Dany Heatley, left, and Jason Spezza, right, are ready for the challenging couple of months which lay ahead as the NHL regular season winds down.

by Todd Anderson

With 26 regular-season games remaining to be played in 49 days, the Ottawa Senators won't have too many nights off in March or April.

"This is what hockey is all about," said Bryan Smolinski of the hectic schedule before the club left for Pittsburgh where they'll meet the Penguins tonight. "This is what you dreamed about as a kid. It's going to be fun."

Dany Heatley is ready to immediately switch his focus from the Winter Olympics, where he represented Team Canada.

"There are races all over from the top, to teams looking for a playoff spot. Games will be very important down the stretch. There's a lot of pressure on this team to win, and we knew before the (Olympic) break this was the most important time of the year. Now it's here, and it's time to deliver."

Heatley's linemate, Jason Spezza, is also ready for what lies ahead.

"The schedule is not kind but we have a good chance to win. Now is the time for us to look forward to the Stanley Cup playoffs."

Added defenceman Zdeno Chara, "This is the time of year you really sacrifice and play your best."

Coach Bryan Murray said he would continue to tinker with the lineup as the regular season winds down.

"With 26 games left, it's time to prepare a lot of things. We're battling Carolina and other teams for first place. We need balanced play from everyone. Games will be tougher now. Teams will line up and play the trap. We have to be real disciplined and get pucks on net in a different way. Whether it's rebounds or tips, we will need that to win."

Defencemen switch partners

In an attempt to get Anton Volchenkov back to his more natural left-side position, Murray has moved the Russian defenceman into a pairing with Brian Pothier. Rookie Andrej Meszaros will now patrol Wade Redden's right side.

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