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Sens stepping up in class

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
The blueprint is there for the Ottawa Senators to see, even if they might have to wipe some dust off it first before giving it a close look.

Two season-opening games in Stockholm against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the second of them a defensive gem in a 3-1 triumph that was just one buzzer-beating goal away from being a shutout for goaltender Alex Auld.

Let's just say the Senators aren't intimidated by the challenge Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins will present when they visit Scotiabank Place on Saturday afternoon (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). But they're also very aware that nothing less than their best will get it done against the two pace-setters in the National Hockey League scoring race. Malkin leads the pack with 41 points, while Crosby is right behind with 39 after a four-assist night in the Pens' 5-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.

"It's a fun challenge. I think everybody is looking forward to tomorrow," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. "We played a good checking game (in Stockholm). You've got to take away their time and space and stay above Malkin and Crosby at all times.

"If you give them odd-man rushes, you can pretty much turn around and pull the puck out of the net because they're so good."

The Stockholm games are two months old now but the formula for keeping the Penguins in check certainly isn't, said Senators centre Jason Spezza.

"We probably outworked them there, tried to neutralize Crosby and Malkin and tried to stay out of the penalty box, because they've got such a good power play," he said. "That's probably the foundation to beat them."

"We played those first two games against them (in Sweden) and haven't seen them since," added Auld (8-6-3), who will make his 10th straight start tomorrow. "As a group, we played pretty well in both games. We know we can play with them and we know we can beat them.

"They're guys you get excited to play against. You always want to play against the best and they're a real good team."

While the Senators returned home from Sweden with three of a possible four points in their pockets, they've battled inconsistency ever since. At 9-10-4, Ottawa stands 12th in the Eastern Conference, eight slots and 12 points behind the Penguins (15-6-4).

"We know we can play with them and we know we can beat them. They're guys you get excited to play against. You always want to play against the best and they're a real good team." - Alex Auld
Tomorrow's game marks the beginning of a stretch of five games in eight days that Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg said will be critical for his team.

"We've had some time off here and now we get busy," he said. "It's important but we don't want to look at the whole stretch of games here. The most important thing for our team right now is just to worry about the next game and continue to try to get points every night.

"The biggest problem we've had is being inconsistent. We can't look farther ahead than tomorrow afternoon. We seem to have battled our way back in this thing and now we're closer to that playoff (position). It's not too early to talk about that but still, the one-game focus for us is to play our best game every night."

Around the boards

Defenceman Alex Picard (wrist) returned to practice today but Hartsburg said his status for tomorrow will be a game-time decision. "We'll see how he feels in the morning," he said. "He'll probably go in the warmup and we'll see from there. He said it felt better and as long as there is no swelling and he doesn't come back with soreness, he could be ready to play." ... Fewer than 500 tickets remain for Saturday's game, while 1,500 are left for Monday's appearance by the Florida Panthers at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

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