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Sharks 'big challenge' for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Chris Kelly and the Senators face a major challenge tonight when Patrick Marleau and the league-leading San Jose Sharks visit Scotiabank Place (Photo by Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images).

If there's ever an ideal time to lock horns with the National Hockey League's front-running team, this just might be it.

Not only are the San Jose Sharks arriving at Scotiabank Place tonight (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) on the tail end of back-to-back games, they're doing it 24 hours after a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings in an intense battle of the Western Conference's top two teams in the Motor City.

All the more reason, the Ottawa Senators say, to be on their game right from the get-go tonight against a Sharks team that is undoubtedly hungry for a quick rebound.

"They’re going to want to respond," centre Mike Fisher said after the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "Good teams always respond the next night but at the same time, (playing) back to back, sometimes you battle fatigue and travel and things like that. So we want to jump on them early and get a good start and just focus on being physical early, competing and battling and getting into the game early."

Added defenceman Chris Phillips: "They're a strong hockey club and, coming off a loss, they're anxious to get back to their winning ways. We've got our work cut out for us but we're ready for the challenge."

Head coach Cory Clouston said the 41-9-9 Sharks, who stand first overall in the National Hockey League, offer up a major measuring stick for his improving team.

"It's always good for your team. They make you play your best," he said about the opportunity to face off against the Sharks, who last played at Scotiabank Place three years ago. "It doesn't matter what time of year it is, it's a great opportunity for us to see where we're at in all aspects of the game. Our guys have to be excited to play."

That's a sentiment echoed by Dany Heatley, who aims to extend a hot streak that has produced eight goals in his previous eight games.

"You can look at (their lineup) on paper, from top to bottom," Heatley said when asked what makes the Sharks so imposing. "Their goaltender (Evgeni Nabokov) is a great goalie, they've got some physical defenceman and some D-men who can skate and play offence. And up front, they've got a lot of scoring depth and with Joe (Thornton) and Patty (Marleau) and (Devin) Setoguchi and those guys, they're scoring a lot of goals.

"They're a strong hockey club and, coming off a loss, they're anxious to get back to their winning ways. We've got our work cut out for us but we're ready for the challenge." - Chris Phillips
"It's always a good test. You get pumped up when Detroit comes in. San Jose doesn't come in very much but any time the top team in the other conference comes in, it's a big game."

It is also a team, Clouston said, that the Senators have to make earn its chances.

"They're a team with great speed. They're first overall and they do a lot of good things," he said. "The big thing for us is to not give them anything. If they're going to get anything, it has to be through hard work. We can't gift wrap anything."

Phillips agreed, saying "one thing we want to be aware of is not letting them get chances in close, in tight around the net or second and third chances. Give them the shots from the outside that our goalie will have no problem with."

Around the boards

Fresh off a 41-save performance against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, Alex Auld (12-14-6) will make a second straight start in the Senators net ... No other changes in the Ottawa lineup, meaning Alex Picard, Brendan Bell and Christoph Schubert will all again be healthy scratches ... The Senators (23-27-9) stand 12th in the Eastern Conference, 13 points shy of a playoff position ... Fewer than 2,000 tickets remain for tonight's game, the second of eight straight at Scotiabank Place ... The teams last met in Ottawa on Jan. 12, 2006, with San Jose taking home a 2-0 victory.

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