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Senators shuffle the deck

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Mike Fisher (left) and Antoine Vermette line up to practise their faceoffs with assistant coach Greg Carvel during the Senators' pre-game skate Thursday morning at Scotiabank Place.

Now the challenge starts to toughen up in a serious way for the Ottawa Senators.

The Boston Bruins, the runaway leaders in the Eastern Conference, pay a visit to Scotiabank Place tonight (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200) in what promises to be a rugged stretch of four games.

Up next are back-to-back games with the Buffalo Sabres – Saturday at Scotiabank Place, then Feb. 11 at HSBC Arena – followed by a trip to Philadelphia to face the Flyers on Feb. 12.

All of that figures to test the resolve of a team settling into life with new head coach Cory Clouston, who'll work his second game behind the Ottawa bench tonight. But captain Daniel Alfredsson welcomes the challenge ahead.

"They're good challenges," he said after the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "I think we've shown we've matched up against good teams fairly well. It's fun to play teams that maybe you're not supposed to beat. That should bring out the best in you."

With tonight's opponent in mind, Clouston is bringing Christoph Schubert back into the lineup and moving Jesse Winchester to the centre position. He'll be flanked by Jarkko Ruutu and Schubert.

"(Clouston) wants us to be physical, hard skating, stir it up and be strong defensively," said Winchester, who saw a bit of time at centre during his days at Colgate University. "Hopefully, we can contribute to the offence, too. Our goal is to win the game and we'll do whatever (Clouston) asks of us."

The Senators have been blanked 1-0 in two of their previous games and now they're matched up against the National Hockey League's stingiest defence. But they remained buoyed by the increase in turnovers and scoring chances they generated in Tuesday night's one-goal loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

"The last game, I thought we had a pretty solid effort," said forward Chris Neil. "Guys worked hard, we competed and it was good to see. It wasn't a good feeling losing 1-0, but we thought we generated a lot of chances. We built on it yesterday (in practice) and had a good morning skate today."

Clouston also hopes Ryan Shannon can give the offence an extra boost against the Bruins. It's likely the Binghamton callup will see "a more prevalent role" than fourth-line duty.

"I know he's not a big guy," Clouston said of the 5-foot-9 Shannon. "He's very tenacious, he's a very good skater and he's got some experience ... He's an extremely character guy. We felt that it's an opportunity for him and he can help out with the offence as well.

"He's got a good touch around the net and he's been playing very well down there."

Shannon is eager to contribute to the cause.

"I've got to make the most of this opportunity," he said. "(Clouston) gave me a great chance in Binghamton and I seemed to flourish under his system. Hopefully, I can continue that here."

Around the boards

Brian Elliott (4-3-1) makes his third straight start in goal ... Forward Shean Donovan (lower body) took part in practice today but won't suit up tonight. Neither will defenceman Alex Picard (upper body), who will miss his second straight game ... Centre Dean McAmmond is a healthy scratch ... Fewer than 3,000 tickets remain for tonight's game.

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