A week away from the fray, and the Ottawa Senators find themselves returning to the battle exactly the way they left it.
Still riding high on top of the National Hockey League standings.
And that’s a position the Senators hope to further solidify Saturday night in Newark, N.J., when they face the Devils in the first NHL game to be played at the new Prudential Center (7 p.m., no TV, Team 1200).
The Senators haven’t played since dumping the Florida Panthers 4-1 last Saturday at Scotiabank Place. But even with six full days to take a crack at it, none of the Sens’ rivals have been able to match – or top – Ottawa’s league-leading 8-1-0 record.
“It’s been interesting to watch,” Senators coach John Paddock said after Friday morning’s practice at the Bell Sensplex. “You think, are we still going to be in first place when we come back? But I think what we accomplished in those first nine games is significant … only Carolina in the East has done it besides us. It’s a hard thing to do, win every night.”
But it’s exactly the attitude the Senators brought into a new season, right from training camp. Ottawa went 7-0-0 in the pre-season and that roll continued when the games started to count.
“You always want to be the best,” said captain Daniel Alfredsson
. “Every night, you want to win. People say it doesn’t really matter now in October, but I think it does … You can’t turn a switch and say ‘we’re going to play better now.’
“We’ve only lost one game. We’re off to a great start, there’s no question. The key is trying to be consistent. That’s the thing you talk about when you’re a top team, that you don’t want to lose two in a row. If you can stay away from that, you’re going to have a pretty good record.”
Saturday’s game should provide an interesting test. Not only are the Senators coming off a one-week hiatus from game action, they’ll also be dealing with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the opening of the Devils’ new rink.
“I’m sure it’ll be like their (home) opener times whatever,” Senators defenceman Chris Phillips
said of the Devils, who played their first nine games this season on the road, going 3-5-1. “It’s like that first impression – you only get one chance to open a new building. I’m sure they’ll be fired up about that and really excited. It’s going to force us to be mentally prepared and ready to go right from the start.”
The Senators insist they’ve done all the right things to stay sharp, despite the dead week between games.
“We shouldn’t be too rusty. We worked real hard in practices,” said winger Antoine Vermette, who’ll be ready to go Saturday night after missing the Florida game because of back spasms. “We don’t want to lose the momentum. We’re kind of rolling right now.”
Rugged winger Chris Neil
agreed, saying “it’s definitely exciting to be back after the layoff.”
“You’d sooner be back in the action playing. You get your intensity up for games, then you have a layoff and you’ve got to find that groove you were in before it.”
Centre Dean McAmmond (left shoulder) has been declared out for Saturday, when Paddock and his coaching staff should get a better read on how they’ve handled the break between games.
“If it turns out good, we’ll pat ourselves on the back,” said Paddock. “If it doesn’t, we’ll ask what the heck we could have done differently. But that’s just hockey.”