The end of a long, often discouraging road trip is finally in sight.
But if the results are wearing on the psyche of the Ottawa Senators, they're not showing it. Even as his team was dropping a 3-2 decision to the Sabres on Tuesday night in Buffalo, Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg didn't sense any quit in his troops.
Ottawa is 1-5-1 on its current road string and now sits 13 points shy of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference that's held down by the Sabres. The Senators couldn't come all the way back from a 3-0 deficit in Buffalo to claim a victory that would have slashed the gap between the teams to a single digit.
"I thought we had our chances, especially in the third period, to tie that game," Hartsburg said earlier today. "The spirit, especially the emotion we had on the bench, was certainly high and it's something we've got to try to keep high.
"We still feel very positive. Our players are in a good frame of mind."
Maybe not so much Jarkko Ruutu, who learned this afternoon he's been suspended by the National Hockey League for two games for a biting incident involving Andrew Peters of the Sabres. Ruutu will miss the final game of the road trip Thursday night in Boston against the Bruins (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200), as well as Saturday's matchup with the New York Rangers at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).
It's the agitating winger's second two-game suspension this season.
"I accept the ruling from the league," Ruutu said after hearing the news. "I feel that (Peters) put his glove in my mouth with intentions to injure me. There was no intent to hurt him, just to get his thumb out of my mouth."
The Senators have summoned rugged defenceman Matt Carkner
from their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., to take Ruutu's spot in the lineup. Injured defencemen Anton Volchenkov (upper body) and Filip Kuba
(groin) also won't suit up against the Bruins.
Kuba has missed all seven games during the Senators' road swing. Hartsburg said Ottawa's highest-scoring defenceman (22 points in 31 games) has been missed at both ends of the ice.
"We knew when (Kuba) got hurt, it would be a big hole in our lineup," he said. "Offensively, he does subtle things, moves the puck and supports things. Defensively, he's been a guy that's been overlooked because he's not an overly physical guy. But his positioning, his smarts and his stick position have been huge for us all year and we miss him."
Hartsburg kept his players off the ice today, choosing instead to hold a team meeting. He's still trying to emphasize the one-game-at-a-time approach, rather than the mountain the Senators now need to climb to keep their 12-year run of playoff appearances alive.
"We had a good meeting, we (looked at) some video and talked about some things," said Hartsburg. "We spent some time discussing (Tuesday) night's game and the things we have to continue to focus on.
"Right now, it's pretty easy to get distracted and look at other things. Let's just worry about our next game and a huge opponent in Boston." Around the boards
Martin Gerber (4-8-1) returns to the Senators net against the Bruins for his 14th start of the season ... Binghamton defenceman Mattias Karlsson
has been named to the PlanetUSA squad for the AHL All-Star Classic, set for Jan. 26 in Worcester, Mass. Karlsson is tied for fourth among all AHL defencemen in points (24) and assists (20) ... The NHL will announce Thursday the Eastern Conference reserves for its annual all-star game Jan. 25 in Montreal. At least one Senators player will be on that list ... Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for Saturday's game against the Rangers.