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Volchenkov ready to jump Sharks

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators defenceman Anton Volchenkov is finally good to go for tonight's matchup with Dany Heatley and the Sharks in San Jose (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Anton Volchenkov is ready to make a splash tonight at the Shark Tank.

After spending 14 games on the sidelines, the Ottawa Senators have given the big Russian defenceman the green light to return to action against Dany Heatley and the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion (10:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). Volchenkov hasn't played since suffering a right elbow injury against the Florida Panthers on Oct. 28.

The timing of his return couldn't be better for the Senators, who must contend with the Sharks' high-flying trio of Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, which has been the most dominant in the National Hockey League so far this season.

"It’s very important," Senators head coach Cory Clouston said of getting his shutdown defenceman back. "We’re hoping (Volchenkov) can step right in without any rust. Probably, that’s not realistic, but we need him to be real solid defensively, finish his checks and just be a physical presence out there."

With Volchenkov back in the lineup, Clouston has decided to make blueliner Chris Campoli a healthy scratch tonight. That means rookie Erik Karlsson will stay in the rotation for a second straight game since his callup last Friday from the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League.

"It’s frustrating a little bit," said Campoli after the Senators' pre-game skate. "I don’t have to necessarily like it but (just) respect it. I’m just going to work hard and do what I can to hopefully get back (into the lineup).

"I have to play to my strengths. I have to continue to move the puck and join the play and at the same time, be responsible defensively and chip in offensively. Those are my strengths."

Added Clouston: "He has to be better. Right now, he hasn’t helped our power play as much as we need him to and he’s got to be a little more assertive 5-on-5. But the big thing is that the other guys don’t deserve to come out. That’s the real big thing."

Brian Elliott will make his fourth straight start in goal for the Senators, while the Sharks plan to go with rookie Thomas Greiss between the pipes.

The game marks the return of Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo to San Jose for the first time since they were obtained by the Senators in the Sept. 12 deal that sent Heatley to the Sharks.

"It’s very important. We’re hoping (Volchenkov) can step right in without any rust. Probably, that’s not realistic, but we need him to be real solid defensively, finish his checks and just be a physical presence out there." - Cory Clouston
"I’ll probably feel a bit of jitters but I think that’s good," said Cheechoo, who spent the first six seasons of his NHL career in San Jose.  "A lot of people that I know are going to be in the stands. They don’t get to see me that much – at least live – so it’ll be a pretty good game."

While much of the pre-game hype has surrounded the Senators' matchup against their former two-time 50-goal scorer, the Sharks – who stand first overall in the NHL (18-6-4) – offer a much bigger test beyond Heatley.

"We’re playing a very good team, not just one player," said Clouston. "He’s having a real good season and we knew he would – he’s a very good player. But in saying that, we’re really worried about their team as a whole. We know they’re a good team."

Said defenceman Chris Phillips. "It's a great test. That's why I think it's real important for us not to get distracted by everything that is surrounding this game. We want to go out and have a great effort and a good showing and prove to ourselves and everyone out there that when we're on our game, we're a good team and we can compete with anyone."

Around the boards

The Senators' lines during today's pre-game skate: Milan Michalek-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson, Nick Foligno-Mike Fisher-Alex Kovalev, Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Jonathan Cheechoo and Jesse Winchester-Ryan Shannon-Ryan Keller. Peter Regin will be a healthy scratch ... After tonight, the Senators' five-game road trip takes them next to Los Angeles, where they'll face off against the Kings on Thursday night at the Staples Center (10:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). Then it's back-to-back road tests against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday (10 p.m., no TV, Team 1200) and Anaheim Ducks on Sunday (8 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).

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