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Senators relish opportunity to keep progressing

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Captain Daniel Alfredsson says the Senators welcome three days of practice at home after a lengthy road trip (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

For a few days at least, they'll get to enjoy the many comforts of home.

Not to mention the opportunity to get their body clocks back in order.

After a whirlwind 10-day road trip that took them all the way to the west coast, the Ottawa Senators can settle into a bit more a regular routine for three days as they prepare to face off against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Friday night in Pittsburgh (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

To hear captain Daniel Alfredsson tell it, it's exactly the tonic for a Senators team that didn't arrive back in the capital until the wee hours on Monday after flying home through four time zones.

"We had a good day of practice today and we need that, especially after the travel we've had," Alfredsson said following Senators practice earlier today at the Bell Sensplex. "It's good to get a few days of good practice to get the legs going and to get back to normal time again, at least for a few days here. It's a good week for us."

Added goaltender Craig Anderson: "For us, it's good to get back, sleep in your bed and see the family and get that family side of things in order. Then we'll get back to business here Friday."

Head coach Paul MacLean sees the three days of practice — rare in the middle of a National Hockey League season — as a chance to keep building on the progress the Senators have made in recent weeks. Since starting 1-5-0, the Senators have posted a 9-4-2 mark to climb above the .500 mark. They recorded points in four straight games in closing out a 3-1-1 road trip.

"It's a good opportunity for us," said MacLean. "It's a good practice window for us of three days, and we're going to take advantage of it. We can continue to progress in our game and do some work on special teams ... just build on the foundation we have and keep improving on what we do."

Speaking of progress, defenceman Matt Carkner continues to push harder in practice and believes he's getting closer to making his season debut after a lengthy period of recovery from knee surgery.

"Progress has been good," said Carkner, who's being deliberate in his recovery after "playing a month and a half with a bad leg" at the end of last season. "I'm just making sure I'm 100 per cent. Sure, it's frustrating to be out of the lineup, but it would be more frustrating if I rushed back and got re-injured."

MacLean suggested Carkner could return "any time in the next to weeks," adding "we're at Game 21 and it takes a little bit to get caught up, so we're going to make sure he's ready to go before we get him in there."

Around the boards

While the message about Carkner was hopeful, the Senators have no timeline yet for the return of forward Chris Neil (ankle). "He's supposed to skate tomorrow and we'll take it from there," said MacLean ... The stiff neck that forced Anderson to give way to Alex Auld on Sunday in Vancouver appears to be behind him now. "It's one of those things where you wake up and things just aren't right," he said. "It was just a good call (to sit out)." ... Senators prospects Chris Wideman and Ryan Dzingel earned honours from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, the league announced Monday. Wideman, a senior at Miami (Ohio), was named defenceman of the week, while Dzingel, a freshman forward at Ohio State, earned rookie-of-the-week honours.

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