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Sens targeting 'important' matchup with Thrashers

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Defenceman Sergei Gonchar and the Senators want to head out on the road on a high note with a big victory over the Atlanta Thrashers tonight at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Check out the NHL game notes for tonight's Ottawa-Atlanta matchup.

It might well be called the most significant matchup ever between two teams that are anything but traditional rivals.

But make no mistake about it. The Ottawa Senators know a win tonight over the Atlanta Thrashers at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200) could have important ramifications in terms of their push for an Eastern Conference playoff berth.

The surging Thrashers (16-11-3), who are 8-2-0 in their last 10 outings, currently hold down the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, seven points in front of 11th-place Ottawa (13-16-2). Even this early in the schedule, a win tonight would surely help the Senators' cause.

"We realize we’re playing teams ahead of us in the standings," centre Jason Spezza said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "We’ve put ourselves three games under .500 and we have to start winning games, especially against teams that are ahead of us. This is a four-point game for us and, hopefully, a game we can cash in on."

When the teams last met on Nov. 9, Ottawa posted an impressive 5-2 win on home ice. The Senators were riding a 7-2-0 streak at the time and seemed to have their season pointed in the right direction. But it has been a struggle ever since, to both score goals and get wins, with Ottawa posting a 5-10-1 record since that game.

But on the heels of a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, the Senators hope to create some new momentum on home ice before heading out on the road later this week for back-to-back games against the Minnesota Wild (Thursday) and Colorado Avalanche (Friday).

"We have to string together a few wins. You’ve got to win the majority of games in this league, especially against teams that are ahead of you. So it’s important for us to win the game tonight. We’re going on the road for a couple of games (later this week), so home wins are really crucial." - Jason Spezza
"It's important for us," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "We gained some ground and then we lost it again, so we've got to get it back. But it still is the same old cliché — take it one game at a time. We know Atlanta is a tough challenge. They're a much-improved team this year."

Added Spezza: "We have to string together a few wins. You’ve got to win the majority of games in this league, especially against teams that are ahead of you. So it’s important for us to win the game tonight. We’re going on the road for a couple of games (later this week), so home wins are really crucial."

This is a different Atlanta team arriving at Scotiabank Place tonight, however, and the play of goaltender Ondrej Pavelec — whose goals-against average (1.79) and save percentage (.944) rank second in the National Hockey League — is a big reason for it.

"Your goaltender gives you the confidence," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "When your goalie is playing that well, it gives you the confidence to make plays, knowing that if there is a mistake, he’s going to be there for you. And you play a lot more relaxed, you play a lot more of a solid game.

"When you have that kind of confidence in your goaltender, good things happen."

That being said, the Senators need to find a way to manufacture a potentially crucial two points tonight on home ice.

"Every game for us now is very important," said defenceman Sergei Gonchar. "All those points, they count (the same) — it doesn’t matter if you’re getting them in April or getting them now. We’re out of playoffs right now and we have to make sure we get as many points as we can."

Around the boards

While Brian Elliott gets the call to start in goal tonight, the good news is that Pascal Leclaire — who didn't practise Sunday because of a lower-body injury — is healthy enough to dress as the backup tonight and could play if needed. "He responded very well to treatment yesterday," said Clouston. "He'd be okay (to play)." ... Gonchar remains one point shy of the 700 plateau for his career, while Spezza is nine points away from the 400 mark ... Tonight also marks the 700th home game for the Senators in modern franchise history.


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