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Sens eager for 'statement game'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Mike Fisher and the Senators know they'll face a major test tonight when Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals visit Scotiabank Place (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

So the Washington Capitals aren't streaking their way into Scotiabank Place tonight.

As long as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and a bevy of dynamic offensive talent hits the ice for the visitors tonight, the Ottawa Senators know they'll need all hands on deck to emerge with two points in their final game at Scotiabank Place before the Olympic break (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).

And what a dandy affair this should be. The Capitals, who saw a 14-game winning streak end with a 6-5 overtime loss in Montreal on Wednesday night, are the runaway leaders in the Eastern Conference with a 41-12-6 mark that includes a 17-1-1 stretch since Ovechkin was named the team's captain on Jan. 5.

The Senators, meanwhile, are on a 12-1-0 roll of their own, which has allowed Ottawa to pull into a tie for top spot in the Northeast Division. Tonight's matchup offers a sizeable measuring stick in terms of the team's improvement.

"We're looking forward to this game," Senators centre Mike Fisher said following the team's pre-game skate earlier today. "They’ve been playing unbelievable (hockey) and their record speaks for itself. We feel like our game has come a long way since the start of the season and we’re starting to play good hockey.

"It’s going to be a great test for us and I’m sure it’s going to be a good one for the fans."

Added defenceman Chris Phillips: "I guess you can call it a statement game. We’ve been playing well and now is the time when you want to measure yourself against one of the top teams. It forces everyone to get up for the game. We all have to be at our best if we want to have the result we’re looking for tonight."

"We're looking forward to this game. They’ve been playing unbelievable (hockey) and their record speaks for itself. We feel like our game has come a long way since the start of the season and we’re starting to play good hockey. It’s going to be a great test for us and I’m sure it’s going to be a good one for the fans." - Mike Fisher
Much of the focus tonight will naturally be on Ovechkin, the National Hockey League's leader in goals (42) and points (86). But the Capitals' offensive talent well runs much deeper. It was a hat-trick by the unheralded Brooks Laich that rallied Washington from a three-goal deficit against the Canadiens and allowed the Caps to earn a point.

"We need to know when he’s out there but you can’t just worry about him specifically," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "Their team is too dangerous if you just completely focus on him. We know what we have to do as a collective group against their team and when he’s on the ice. That’s what we’re going to do, focus on what we have to do at both ends of the ice."

That being said, Senators centre Chris Kelly admitted Ovechkin "is a pretty dynamic player and you’ve got to know when he’s on the ice. He shoots from everywhere and it seems like every time he’s got the puck, he makes things happen. If we can limit his chances with the puck and play with it a little more than usual, I think we should be okay."

Around the boards

Brian Elliott (20-12-3) gets the start in goal tonight for Ottawa, his 12th straight ... The Senators are riding a six-game home winning streak and have won the last three meetings against the Capitals at Scotiabank Place ... Ottawa's lines during the pre-game skate: Milan Michalek-Jason Spezza-Jonathan Cheechoo, Chris Kelly-Mike Fisher-Daniel Alfredsson, Alex Kovalev-Peter Regin-Ryan Shannon and Jarkko Ruutu-Jesse Winchester-Chris Neil ... Tonight's game marks the 600th of Fisher's NHL career, all of them with the Senators ... Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for the game against the Capitals. It's also a Metro Family Night, with fans able to purchase four tickets, four drinks and four hotdogs for $99.

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