They hit the road two long weeks ago, desperate to escape the clutches of a six-game losing streak.
Saturday night, the Ottawa Senators will arrive back on Scotiabank Place ice riding a wave of new-found momentum, with a four-game winning streak having tightened their grip on top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Not exactly the same team the Sens Army faithful saw overpowered by the New York Rangers 5-2 on the first Saturday of December. But since then, the Senators collected nine out of a possible 10 points on a five-game road swing. In the last week, they outscored the Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins – not exactly the dregs of the National Hockey League – by a 14-3 count in posting three victories.
Some magic potion they picked up away from Ottawa, perhaps?
Not according to Senators head coach John Paddock.
“That’s just a bunch of malarkey, I think, for the most part,” Paddock said Friday morning when asked if getting away from home was just the tonic the Senators needed to end their longest losing streak in nearly a dozen years. “If we’d only won one (on the road), we’d be saying ‘what’s wrong with us?’ I don’t buy into that.
“I just think we hit rock bottom against the Rangers and we continued to rebound after that. And saying that, it’s such a fine line. If just one thing goes wrong, one non-save (Thursday) night, one bounce a different way and we’re not in any better shape.”
Instead, the Senators, with a 20-7-3 mark, have widened their gap atop the Eastern Conference standings to six points over the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins. The Rangers, who had crept to within four with their Dec. 1 win in Ottawa, are now eight back – part of what Paddock called “the ups and downs” of life in the National Hockey League these days.
“The Rangers looked like world beaters when they were in here. They looked like they had their chemistry together,” said Paddock. “Well, they’ve won one game since, 1-0 over New Jersey. They got blown out by Carolina, they got blown out by Toronto. But I don’t think any of that stuff surprises me anymore.”
So it is that the Senators, even given their current hot streak, won’t be overlooking Saturday night’s visitors, the Atlanta Thrashers (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Still fresh is the memory of Thrashers sniper Ilya Kovalchuk nearly wiping out a big Senators lead with a third-period hat trick back on Nov. 1 at Scotiabank Place. In the end, the Sens hung on for a 6-4 victory.
Paddock considers Kovalchuk and former Senator Marian Hossa one of the most dynamic duos in the NHL right now.
“We saw what (Kovalchuk) did here,” said Paddock. “He can score from anywhere inside the blue line, so he’s very dangerous. The other guy (Hossa), he’s a complete player.”
After a standout performance that set the table for Thursday’s win in Pittsburgh, Martin Gerber has been tabbed to start against the Thrashers.
“He had to be real strong (Thursday) night and he was,” said Paddock. “He was outstanding, especially in the first period.
There was no update on goaltender Ray Emery, who left Wednesday’s game against the Florida Panthers with soreness in his right hip area.
“He’s going to be able to back up, which means he’d be able to play (if need be),” said Paddock. “He’s obviously better than he was. We’re not practising today, so we’ll have a better read on exactly where he’s at (Saturday) morning.”
Forward Brian McGrattan, who suffered a slight right shoulder strain when Penguins enforcer Georges Laraque landed on him during a first-period fight, remains day-to-day. There’s a chance the Senators might need to bring a replacement up from their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., if McGrattan can’t go Saturday night. Among the candidates suggested by Paddock: Niko Dimitrakos, Danny Bois, and Russians Alexander Nikulin and Ilya Zubov
About 150 tickets remain for Saturday's game.