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Thrashers figure to test streaking Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Centre Jason Spezza says the Senators will take a different approach tonight when they face the new-look Atlanta Thrashers for the first time this season (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

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

These aren't exactly your father's Atlanta Thrashers.

Playoff observers for most of their existence, this hockey gang from Georgia imported a wealth of Stanley Cup experience and a new coaching staff to bring some new direction to the franchise. All of which has the Ottawa Senators' attention for tonight's matchup between the teams at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

"We know we can't go into (tonight's) game and have last year's memory of a team that struggled," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "We have to realize they're playing very well now. We definitely won't take them lightly."

At 6-5-3, the Thrashers are Ottawa's (7-6-1) equal in the points column, though the Senators officially rate one spot higher (seventh) in the Eastern Conference standings. Atlanta bolstered its roster over the summer by adding four key cogs from the Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks — forwards Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager, along with blueliners Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Sopel. Ex-Senators assistant coach Craig Ramsay is now the head man behind the Atlanta bench.

"It brings some good culture for the other guys," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said of the sweeping changes in Atlanta. "They've had a tough go as a franchise for awhile — I think they've only been in the playoffs once. So it brings a good attitude. New coaches as well, so they can start off fresh. They've done a good job so far and we'll see how they can maintain that throughout the year. It's definitely been a big addition for them."

Added defenceman Matt Carkner: "It's a huge difference. It adds some skill, it adds some experience and they have a winning mentality. Bringing that into a locker-room is very important and I'm sure they're trying to rub it off on everyone else. They're a pretty good team now, they're playing well and we've got to be ready for them."

The Senators, meanwhile, have been a rather good team themselves as of late. They're riding a three-game winning streak into tonight's matchup and have posted victories in six of their last eight outings.

"When you play (against) your divisional teams, you play a little different because you know how they play — you play them so much. When you play teams you don't see as much, you've really got to focus on yourself and how you're feeling and your own team's game. You adjust a little bit when you play a team a lot. But in a game like tonight, we haven't seen these guys and they've got a lot of new players. So we've just got to worry about ourselves tonight and, hopefully, our game can carry over and we'll play well." - Jason Spezza
"We've just been working hard, trying to get better every day," Alfredsson said of the team's turnaround in recent weeks. "You win a few, you get some confidence and (you can) keep it going. But everybody knows that every night, it's a new battle. It's tough to win in this league. We've just got to keep approaching it in the same manner.

"Confidence is always important, but more important is to do the things that make you successful consistently. If you do that, you give yourself a chance to win. You might not do it all the time, but you don't (end up) depending on good luck all the time. If you do the small things, good luck will happen. You'll win some games and confidence comes along with it."

Given the new look the visitors will be sporting tonight, Senators centre Jason Spezza admitted the focus will be slightly different for this one.

"When you play (against) your divisional teams, you play a little different because you know how they play — you play them so much," he said following the Senators' pre-game skate at Scotiabank Place. "When you play teams you don't see as much, you've really got to focus on yourself and how you're feeling and your own team's game.

"You adjust a little bit when you play a team a lot. But in a game like tonight, we haven't seen these guys and they've got a lot of new players. So we've just got to worry about ourselves tonight and, hopefully, our game can carry over and we'll play well."

Around the boards

Forward Milan Michalek, who's missed the last four games while dealing with tendinitis in his surgically repaired knee, is eager to make his return to the lineup tonight. "I can play pain free now, so hopefully it's going to be good," said a smiling Michalek. "Hopefully, it stays like that. It was just tendinitis there and I just had to calm it down. Now it's all good." ... Brian Elliott makes his 11th straight start in goal tonight. If he's between the pipes again Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200), it'll mark Elliott's 100th career National Hockey League game ... Carkner is slated to hit the same milestone Saturday in Boston against the Bruins (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).


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