|Senators goaltender Pascal Leclaire, who's familiar with the Nashville Predators from his days with the Columbus Blue Jackets, says it's important for his team to get off to a good start tonight (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).
On paper, a matchup with the Nashville Predators seems like the ideal scenario for an Ottawa Senators team looking to further build on its strong season start.
The Predators arrive at Scotiabank Place tonight (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) riding a six-game winless streak, including Wednesday's 3-2 setback at the hands of the Bruins in Boston. With a mere 12 goals to their credit, the Preds also own the National Hockey League's most anemic offence. They've scored just six of them during their current skid.
Oh, yeah, captain Jason Arnott is also sidelined by injury, a huge loss for a team without too many top-flight offensive threats.
Sounds like two points made to order for the Senators (5-2-0), who have won three of four at Scotiabank Place so far this season and can regain top spot in the Northeast Division with a victory tonight. But beware of the wounded bear, suggests Ottawa head coach Cory Clouston.
"They may be struggling right now but often, that's the most dangerous opponent," he said. "We expect a tough game tonight... I thought it was a pretty gritty road game they played (Wednesday) night. We need to be prepared to play a top game tonight."
Goaltender Pascal Leclaire saw plenty of the Predators during his days with Columbus Blue Jackets. He knows his former Central Division rival won't be a soft touch tonight.
"You can't underrate them," said Leclaire (4-2-0, 2.17 GAA), who'll make his fourth straight start this evening. "They're a pretty hard-working team and we can't take them lightly, even if they've had a slower start than usual. We've just got to make sure we're ready.
"We haven't played in awhile (since a 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens last Saturday), so we've just got to make sure we get a good start and take it from there."
"You can't underrate them. They're a pretty hard- working team and we can't take them lightly, even if they've had a slower start than usual. We've just got to make sure we're ready." - Pascal Leclaire
Added captain Daniel Alfredsson
: "I saw (the Predators) lost to Boston by one goal and Boston is a really good team, so they're not that far off. I don't think you can take any game easy these days. You used to have four or five teams you thought maybe you should beat, but it's not like that anymore.
"You've got to make sure you stay sharp, especially on specialty teams. We know they're struggling to score goals, so (we've got to) stay out of the box, play solid in the neutral zone and we'll get our chances."Ailing Spezza won't sit out tonight
Centre Jason Spezza
, who has admittedly been slowed by an undisclosed "nagging injury," took the pre-game skate earlier today and declared himself good to go.
He suggested today that scaling back some practice time might be the tonic he needs to get himself back to full health.
"Hopefully, I can keep playing the games," he said. "If I've got to rest a bit on the off-days, I'll rest on the off-days. But you don't want to miss games... You feel like you can play through them.
"We'll see how it goes. Hopefully, I don't have to take any games off. I'd like to play as many as I can and play all 82 again."Around the boards
With centre Peter Regin
returning to the lineup tonight, Shean Donovan becomes a healthy scratch against the Predators ... Clouston suggested "there's a chance" Brian Elliott might get his second start of the season on Saturday, when the Bruins visit Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) ... The Senators' lines during the pre-game skate: Milan Michalek
-Jason Spezza-Jonathan Cheechoo, Alex Kovalev-Mike Fisher-Daniel Alfredsson, Nick Foligno
-Regin-Chris Neil, and Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Ryan Shannon ... The Senators' penalty-killing unit ranks second in the NHL (27-of-29, 93.1 per cent), while the power play is 28th (3-for-26, 11.5 per cent) ... Cheechoo scored his first career NHL goal against the Predators on Oct. 24, 2002. "I'll always remember that," he said ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for Thursday's game with the Predators. It's another Subway Savings Game
, with all regular-priced tickets available at 20 per cent off.