Milan Michalek will have one new linemate when the Senators face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at Scotiabank Place (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
NHL game notes (PDF) for tonight's Ottawa-Tampa Bay matchup.
They've already taken turns trading one-sided victories on home ice.
So naturally, you'd assume the Ottawa Senators will have quite the upper hand when they face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200). After all, the Senators thumped the Bolts 7-1 in their previous meeting in Ottawa – a result the Lightning reversed in convincing fashion with a 5-2 triumph two weeks later in Tampa, Fla.
But not so fast, says Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who sees a much different game unfolding before the home folks this evening. Even if the Lightning (5-4-4) are only 1-4-1 away from the St. Pete Times Forum.
"I think it’ll be a pretty tight game," Alfredsson said after the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "Both teams won their home games, and we would like to continue that trend. We’ve done a good job of checking against them. In Tampa, we played a great first period. There was an unlucky call against us and they scored on the power play.
"We should have been up 2-1 or 3-1 after that period and we don’t (have the lead) and it comes back to haunt us. We’ve just got to make sure we get on their D, make them turn the puck over and create offence that way. We did that the last time they were here and we were pretty successful."
Aiding the Senators (6-4-2) cause will be the return to the lineup of centre Jason Spezza, who took the pre-game skate and declared himself good to go against the Lightning.
"You’re bringing back an elite player," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "According to him and the doctors, he’s a lot closer to being 100 per cent healthy than he was before, which is a big plus."
Spezza will find some familiar company on the right side tonight, with Alfredsson being moved onto that unit with Spezza and left-winger Milan Michalek. Ryan Shannon will slide onto the second line alongside Alex Kovalev and Mike Fisher.
"I think it’ll be a pretty tight game. Both teams won their home games, and we would like to continue that trend. We’ve done a good job of checking against them ... We’ve just got to make sure we get on their D, make them turn the puck over and create offence that way. We did that the last time we were here and we were pretty successful."- Daniel Alfredsson
"We're going to be expected to play well and score goals and carry the play when we're on the ice," said Spezza. "But (the Lightning) have a couple of lines like that, so we're going to try to match them."
But as Clouston noted, the team has also been receiving plenty of offensive production from its so-called bottom two lines. Tonight, at least, those trios will line up this way: Nick Foligno-Peter Regin-Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Jonathan Cheechoo.
Even though they didn't get the win, it was a four-line effort last Saturday night that generated a 43-8 edge in shots on goal over the final two periods against the Atlanta Thrashers. More of that might be just the right ticket against a Lightning team playing its third game in four nights.
"In the last game, it didn’t matter which line we sent out, they stuck with the plan, got pucks in deep and cycled. They were very effective," said Clouston. "The ‘fourth line’ has scored a lot of goals for us and they’ve scored some big goals for us and early goals. They’ve been able to steal the momentum for us when we’ve needed them to.
"Those (two) lines are very, very important. They push the other lines and make them more accountable."
Around the boards
Forward Jesse Winchester rejoined the team today after a two-week conditioning stint with the Senators' American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y. He won't play tonight but could see action Saturday, when the New Jersey Devils visit Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) ... With Spezza back in the lineup, Shean Donovan is a healthy scratch tonight ... Pascal Leclaire (4-3-1) makes the start in goal ... Fewer than 2,750 tickets remain for tonight's game, which has also been designated as Canadian Forces Appreciation Night. Fans are encouraged to wear red to support our troops, with more than 2,200 military personnel and their families scheduled to be in attendance at Scotiabank Place.