They're not exactly one of the National Hockey League's glamour teams.
But nobody has to tell the Ottawa Senators to be wary of the New York Islanders, who they will face Saturday at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. (7 p.m., no TV, Team 1200). A pair of early season losses to the gritty Isles did more than enough to open the eyes of the Senators (8-9-4), who are aiming to build on a two-game winning streak.
"They beat us twice (already)," said Senators forward Dany Heatley. "We've got to go into their building and play real well and keep playing the way we have and get those two points."
While many pre-season pundits had the Isles firmly placed among the Eastern Conference also-rans, they're currently in a tightly bunched group that is chasing one of the eight available playoff positions. And they're doing it without ace goaltender Rick DiPietro, who is sidelined for an extended period because of injury.
"At the beginning of the year, I think a lot of people counted them out right away," said Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg. "I think the coach there (Scott Gordon) has done an outstanding job in establishing a work ethic. They are a pressure team, they put pressure on people, they work as a team and they've got guys playing roles.
"They're a hard team to play against and probably the surprise of the league so far."
Meanwhile, the Senators continue to find ways to manufacture points in tight games. They've allowed only five goals in their last four outings, during which they're won a pair and dropped two others in shootouts. That's six of a possible eight points during that stretch.
"Whatever it takes to win games – 2-1, 1-0, winning in a shootout – we’ll take those points all the time," said Heatley.
Expect more of the same Saturday against the Islanders.
"That's a reality with the league now," said centre Antoine Vermette. "Every night, it's a battle and if you're not doing the exact thing you should be doing and working together, you put yourselves in a tough spot.
"We know (the Islanders) are a good team and every game is tough. Most of the games we play, win or lose, they're all one-goal game type of things. That (shows you) how tough it is in this league."Saturday Update
Forward Shean Donovan, who suffered an "upper body injury" during Thursday's 2-1 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs, is a scratch for tonight's game. Dean McAmmond (head cold) also remains out, while defenceman Alex Picard is sidelined by a sprained wrist. Filling the void are forward Zack Smith
and blueliner Brian Lee, both called up Friday from the Senators' American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y. Christoph Schubert remains in the lineup at forward and will play on the fourth line with Smith and Cody Bass ... Alex Auld
(7-5-3) makes his eighth straight start in goal for the Senators tonight. Neil on road to recovery
Forward Chris Neil
skated on his own today for the first time since having knee surgery a week ago to replace a torn meniscus. Though he isn't close to a return just yet, Neil is "definitely encouraged" by the progress he's made so far.
"It felt pretty good," he said. "It's not 100 per cent by any means – I justI just had surgery a week ago – but I think I'm ahead of the game and that's half the battle. Tomorrow will be a good tell-tale (sign), if there's any swelling. That's the bottom line. If there's limited swelling, then my recovery can be that much quicker."