(Check out the NHL's game notes for tonight's Ottawa-Toronto matchup).
|Captain Daniel Alfredsson and the Senators expecting nothing less than a tight battle against the Maple Leafs in Toronto tonight (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images).
A quick glance might indicate the gap that separates these two provincial rivals in the Eastern Conference standings is as wide as ever.
But upon further review, there is every reason to suggest tonight's matchup between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) will be a nail-biter right to the final buzzer.
The Senators expect nothing less than another Battle of Ontario against the Leafs, a team they've conquered twice so far this season, but by slim 2-1 (Oct. 6 in Toronto) and 3-2 (Nov. 17 at Scotiabank Place) margins. And while the sixth-place Senators (16-11-4) are head and shoulders above the 14th-place Leafs in the conference standings, the margin between the two now sits at seven points.
All of which makes tonight's "four-point game" between these teams a significant one. Then again, given the fact that 15 of the Senators' 31 matches so far this season have produced one-goal results, head coach Cory Clouston expects another tight finish.
"We look at every game as a very big game," Clouston said after the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today at the ACC. "The league is so tight right now and the opposition is so well-prepared that you can’t take a night off.
"We’re looking at this as just (another) game, as far as we have to play our game and we have to do that for 60 minutes to give ourselves an opportunity to win."
This also isn't the same Leafs team the Senators faced earlier on this season. They've won three straight at the ACC and seven of their last 10, including Saturday's 6-3 triumph over the conference-leading Washington Capitals in which the trio of Phil Kessel, Matt Stajan and Alexei Ponikarovsky combined for eight points.
"Early on in the season, they struggled, probably because they had a lot of new faces," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
. "But it seems like they’ve turned it around and they're playing some really good hockey. We’re expecting a tight-checking game."
But one thing hasn't changed about tonight's opponent.
"We look at every game as a very big game. The league is so tight right now and the opposition is so well-prepared that you can’t take a night off. We’re looking at this as just (another) game, as far as we have to play our game and we have to do that for 60 minutes to give ourselves an opportunity to win." - Cory Clouston
"Even in their losses against us and the games that we watched, they still played hard," Clouston said of the Leafs. "That’s the one thing they’ve done, they’ve worked hard. They may not have always gotten the breaks or won the games but for the most part, they played hard and were aggressive. And they’re starting to play with some confidence now."
Ottawa, meanwhile, has won two straight on the road and hopes to extend that streak tonight. It would be a good sign for a team that has been one of the National Hockey League's best on home ice this season (11-4-3) but hasn't come close to matching that record away from Scotiabank Place.
"We won a couple on the road lately but before that, we struggled on the road," said centre Mike Fisher, whose hot start this season now has him only three points shy of the 300 mark for his career. "We’ve been pretty good at home, but we’ve got to be better on the road a little more consistently. But we’ve been right there in most of the games and playing hard, and tonight’s going to be another tough match."Around the boards
Brian Elliott (8-6-3) makes his 13th straight start in goal tonight ... Defenceman Chris Campoli is again a healthy scratch as Clouston goes with the same lineup he used in Saturday night's 4-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes ... The Senators are 9-2-4 in one-goal games this season ... After tonight, the Senators play eight of their next 11 games at home, including Wednesday's matchup with the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200). It's another Subway Savings Game
, with all regular-priced tickets
priced at 20 per cent off, starting at $14 in the Coke Zero Zone.