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Senators rookie aims to keep the good times rolling

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Jim O'Brien's solid play is giving the Binghamton Senators callup an extended run in Ottawa (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Who knows how long this ride will last?

But with that thought of uncertainty always in mind, Jim O'Brien intends to make the moment as beneficial to his still-young National Hockey League career as possible.

"I'm trying not to think about that," the rookie Senators winger said about his longest callup yet from the American Hockey League, which will reach nine games tonight when Ottawa faces off against the Washington Capitals at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). "I'm just trying to go out every game and treat every game like a trial.

"You go out there and try to be the best you can, and try to get better every day and every game."

As nerve-wracking as O'Brien's day-to-day current existence can be — the 23-year-old native of Maplewood, Minn., has no idea if and when he'll be told he's headed back to the Binghamton Senators — he's doing what's necessary to keep it going.

"It's just the way it is," said O'Brien, the Senators' top pick (29th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. "You just approach it day by day and not look too far ahead in the schedule ... Just keep showing up and working hard and playing well, and good things usually happen when you do that.

"It feels good to be up here, but you've still got to go out there and you've still got to play and perform. You've got to be good out there."

So far, so good, in the eyes of Senators head coach Paul MacLean, who has found a more than adequate fill-in on the fourth line for centre Jesse Winchester, who's been sidelined for nearly two months with a concussion.

"It's his chance to play," MacLean said of O'Brien, who notched his first career NHL goal last week against the Florida Panthers. "With the injury to Jesse Winchester, we felt there was a need for that person and he was the obvious choice. To this point, he's done a good job. What that turns into, we'll find out at the end of the season and into the future."

Of more immediate concern is tonight's opponent. While the Capitals (29-25-5) are struggling at the moment — they were blanked 5-0 by the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday and stand 10th in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind seventh-place Ottawa (31-22-8) — and might be missing top gun Alex Ovechkin, who has a lower-body injury and will be a game-time decision this evening. As well, leading point-getter Nicklas Backstrom has been sidelined since Jan. 3 with a concussion, stripping the Washington attack of a major component.

All that being said, the Senators — who are riding a 4-0-1 streak and coming up an impressive 6-0 whitewashing of the New York Islanders on Monday — know full well they're winless in three tries against the Caps this season and won't be looking past the wounded bear tonight.

"We know it wasn't that long ago that they were the team to beat in the whole league, pretty much," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. "They still have the ability and definitely have (players) who can win games for them individually as well. So everybody respects them and doesn't want to be the team to give them that momentum to get going."

Around the boards

A couple of Senators individual milestones worth noting heading into tonight's game. Spezza, who's recorded 15 points in his last six games, is now three shy of 600 for his career. And Karlsson is just one assist away from matching the franchise record in that category for defencemen (47), set by Norm Maciver in Ottawa's expansion season of 1992-93. Maciver's 63-point total that year also remains the franchise standard but Karlsson, now sitting at 57, is closing in fast with 21 games still to play in this campaign ... No lineup changes for Ottawa this evening, meaning it's Craig Anderson back in goal, and centre Zenon Konopka and blueliner Matt Carkner as the healthy scratches ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for tonight's game ... The Senators are at home again Saturday, when the Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins visit Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

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