Mike Fisher and the Senators know they'll need to be at their best to handle a pesky New York Islanders team at Scotiabank Place tonight (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images).
There's no place like home for the Ottawa Senators to start regaining their old mastery over the New York Islanders.
With rookie sensation John Tavares and all the buzz surrounding him now in tow, the Isles supply the opposition for Ottawa's home-opener tonight at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). It's a team that the Senators have dominated for years, posting a 33-7-8-1 record against New York going back to 1996.
But that being said, nobody wearing Ottawa colours is taking tonight's matchup for granted. Not with the memory of the 2008-09 season, when the Senators went 1-3-0 against the Islanders, still rather fresh in mind.
"In the past, we've always had the Islanders' number," Senators centre Mike Fisher said when asked about the turn in fortunes between the teams last season. "But last year, whether we took them lightly or the way they played against us ... they play hard and if you don't come ready to play, they're going to make you pay.
"They did that a few times to us last year, but we're looking to get a good jump on them early tonight."
Senators head coach Cory Clouston also sounded the alarm, calling the Islanders a hard-working outfit that demands every opponent's attention.
"I think we’re going to get a lot of pressure (tonight)," said Clouston. "They skate very well, they work extremely hard and they don’t sit back. They come at you in all three zones. We have to support our defencemen tonight and get back for pucks quickly.
"We’re going to have to keep our game simple. There’s not a lot of time to make fancy plays in the neutral zone. There’s going to be pressure all night."
Naturally, a lot of the focus will be on Tavares, the top overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The 19-year-old phenom produced a goal and assist in the Isles' season-opening 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on the weekend.
"We know he's a world-class player," said Clouston. "He's stepped right in and made a difference already."
Count on the Senators defencemen being wary of his every move tonight.
"In the past, we've always had the Islanders' number. But last year, whether we took them lightly or the way they played against us ... they play hard and if you don't come ready to play, they're going to make you pay. They did that a few times to us last year, but we're looking to get a good jump on them early tonight."- Mike Fisher
"When you see a guy like (Tavares) and the numbers he puts up ... he's got a knack for getting on the scoresheet," Senators defenceman Chris Phillips said about the all-time leading goal scorer in Canadian junior hockey history. "You just try to limit the time he has with the puck.
"If you give him time, he's going to make a great play or put it in the net himself. We just always have to have someone on and in his face."
The Senators also want to build off Tuesday's 2-1 road victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs, while keeping their emotions in check during the excitement that surrounds the home-opener.
"Any time you’re in your first game at home, it’s a matter of being smart – playing with energy but not overdoing it," said Fisher. "(It's about) making sure we're sticking to our game plan and being disciplined. We want to stay out of the box and make sure we’re playing a smart, tight game."
Added Clouston: "We’re definitely (going) in the right direction. But every team would say the same thing – you want to be better. It’s only two games into the season and there are areas we need to improve on but a lot of positives, too."
Around the boards
Forward Jesse Winchester skated with the team in practice and Clouston said he'll likely be ready for game action yet. Will he be in the lineup? "We'll see how everybody plays before we make that decision," said Clouston ... Centre Ryan Shannon (upper body) is expected to return to practice Friday ... Pascal Leclaire makes his third straight start in goal tonight ... Senators forward Jarkko Ruutu will play his 500th career game ... The Senators' current homestand continues through the weekend with games against the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday (7 p.m., no TV, Team 1200) and the Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) ... Saturday's matchup with the Thrashers is also a Metro Family Night game.