The recent road trip was a perfect opportunity for the Ottawa Senators to see if the team could step up while dealing with adversity. All indications are yes.
A tough three-game stint against Western Conference opponents, which included the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche, was made even more difficult because the Senators played without Wade Redden, Martin Havlat and Jason Spezza (who missed the Colorado game).
Several changes were made to the roster by coach Bryan Murray, who said he was pleased with the results from his team, after taking home four out of six points during the trip.
"We found a way to battle. We found out a bit about the whole group and they found out about themselves. They showed how determined the group is. Some people have had to move in different positions, but they worked real hard at that. That trip was a real good test for us."
There were several players who stood up during the trip. Among them was Patrick Eaves, who combined with his fellow rookie teammates for three goals and three assists against the Avalanche on Monday. In seven games with the big club, he has three goals and four points.
"I just focus each game," he said of his success. "Hopefully, I continue to contribute to the team. Every time I come up, I feel more comfortable. For us to contribute, it takes a load off the big line."
Coach Murray has been impressed with Eaves during his time in Ottawa.
"He's very intelligent to begin with. He does all the right things and he's very confident in his life. He's ready for the big time right now. Whether he gets that chance right away or not, I can't say whether or not but he can certainly play on this hockey team. This is why our team is going to be better. These young kids are just going to continually get better.
Bryan Smolinski played on the top line with Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley. The line had a strong influence in the win over Colorado, as did the youngsters.
"Sometimes when there is a chink in the armor you have to step up," he said. "It always helps when you have Dominik back there."
Defenceman Andrej Meszaros continues to receive rave reviews. The rookie has been used as a top-four defenceman while Redden has nursed his sprained knee.
"He deserves to be a part of this team," said Chris Phillips, adding that any other season his teammate would be a top threat to win the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. "It's a tough year to come in and look for that award."
Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Washingston's Alexander Ovechkin and Calgary's Dion Phaneuf have also had solid rookie campaigns.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson is enjoying seeing a total team effort from the club recently.
"You just want to make sure you score more than the other team. Our line gets most of the attention, but other guys have been chipping in when we need it. There's good depth on this team, there's no question."
The Senators may be without centre Jason Spezza (hip flexor), Wade Redden (sprained knee) and Chris Kelly (bruised right foot) when they host the Dallas Stars tomorrow night at the Corel Centre.
Murray said Wednesday he was planning to head into the game without any of the trio available. He added the Senators might decide to go with 19 players rather than make another call to Binghamton.
"Kelly couldn't skate (Wednesday morning at practice) and I would expect he will be doubtful or unable to play. My planning doesn't include Jason. Redden, same thing. You've got to play these guys at the right time and they've got to be healthy to play. If they're going to struggle out there and just get by, that's not good enough."
Spezza wasn't sure if he would be ready to go or not.
"I hope to play (Thursday). The most important thing for me is to be healthy for a long playoff run. I tried playing through this, sometimes that's the worse thing you can do. When I start to feel better, you'll see me back out there. I have no timeline."
Murray wants to make sure they're ready just like other teams are fully prepared when they meet the Senators.
"Vancouver was like Game 7. What I mentioned to the players, from now on most every time you face them, you're going to face the best game that the other team can provide. That's great for us."
Top players leading the Stars
Murray feels a trio of veterans is leading the Dallas Stars of late. He's also expecting a very structured effort from the Stars -- one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now --when they visit the Corel Centre Thursday night.
"They're very systematic. Their good players are playing like good players. (Marty) Turco is battling to be an Olympic goalie, Mike Modano is again playing real well and (Sergei) Zubov is certainly the cornerstone guy on the blueline."
Ray Emery will start in goal, his first start against Dallas in his NHL career.