No question the Ottawa Senators enjoy life as frontrunners.
Like any National Hockey League team, they'd prefer to set the pace, both on the ice and on the scoreboard, whenever they take the ice. And as back-to-back home ice losses to the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers in a five-day span showed, it's no fun trying to play catch-up, either.
So when the Senators end their current five-game homestand against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200), they know any success they enjoy must start with their start.
"It's a lot easier to play in this league with a lead," centre Jason Spezza
said after Thursday's team practice at Scotiabank Place. "It forces the other team to take chances. It seems like when we get the first goal or when we score early in games, we definitely get a lot of confidence from it. So we want to focus on that."
Head coach Craig Hartsburg believes his team can take a step in that direction by carrying over the finish of Wednesday night's 3-1 loss to Florida, when the Senators peppered Panthers goaltender Craig Anderson
with a team-record 26 shots in the third period. But it wasn't anywhere near enough to overcome the 2-0 lead the visitors had built in the opening minutes of the contest.
"We need to have a positive leaving town," Hartsburg said with an eye toward a four-game road trip that begins Saturday night in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. "Let's try to build on the effort that we had last night in the second and third. It’s important that we come back and have that type of effort right from the start tomorrow. That has to be a big focus for us.
"Twenty-six shots in the third period was certainly a good push by us but we’d like to see that push early in the hockey game. So let’s come out and start that way tomorrow."
They'll do it in front of goaltender Alex Auld
, who hasn't played since backstopping the Senators to a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Stockholm on Oct. 5. But Auld, who's watched Martin Gerber start the last four games in succession, has been down this road before in four previous NHL stops.
"I feel like I've been in this situation so many times before, and it's something you get used to and you know how to prepare for it. That's why the last three weeks in practice have been so important for me," said Auld. "I wasn't concerned about when I wasn't in the net or how long it was (since he last played). If I'm worried about when I'm not playing, then I'm not going to be ready when it's my turn. I was just focusing on my next game, whenever it was, and it's tomorrow night.
"I'm just looking at the opportunity tomorrow to get points for my team."
So, too, are his teammates, who would like to provide Auld with something they haven't had the past two games: An early lead.
"We all want to win, we all want to find ways to win hockey games and we all want to start the game well but we're not," said Spezza. "It seems like once we score a goal, we're a much better team because we play with much more confidence.
"We've just got to believe in each other and have that confidence to start games off and not wait for something to happen before we get the confidence."
Around the boardsDaniel Alfredsson
left practice after 15 minutes because of cramping in his thigh/quadriceps area, but Hartsburg expects his captain to be good to go Friday against the Ducks ... It's the same story, too, he said, for defenceman Chris Phillips
, who sat out today's session to rest a bruised foot suffered last week ... Fewer than 500 tickets remain for Friday's game.