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Zack attacking Sens opportunity

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Rookie forward Zack Smith has been an impact player for the Ottawa Senators since being recalled from Binghamton (AHL) on Jan. 8 (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

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

Zack Smith isn't exactly ready to unpack his bags for good just yet.

But the rookie forward intends to keep doing what he can to extend his stay with the Ottawa Senators.

So far, so good, for the 21-year-old native of Maple Creek, Sask., who will bring his hard-nosed game to the lineup one more time when the Senators face off against the St. Louis Blues tonight at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).

"I know why I'm here," Smith said after the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "I'm going to be a third- or fourth-line checker type of player. It's good to chip in offensively, too."

Smith has been so effective since his Jan. 8 callup from the Binghamton Senators that, even with Milan Michalek returning to action tonight, team management isn't ready to send him back to the farm just yet.

"No way does he deserve to come out of the lineup," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston, who will instead make veteran Shean Donovan a healthy scratch. "He's done a great job killing penalties, he's done a real good job 5-on-5 and scored a couple of big goals for us the last few games."

Smith still smiles at the mention of his first career National Hockey League goal, which started the Senators on their way to a 4-2 victory over the Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday night. He also had the game-opening goal in Tuesday's 4-1 conquest of the Chicago Blackhawks.

"Probably the most excited I've ever been," Smith said of the first one. "It's hard to describe. You always wonder how long it's going to take to get your first goal. On the one hand, you're just happy to be here but you also want to get that first one over with. That was amazing, especially in Montreal and on Hockey Night in Canada, too."

He also had them cheering back in tiny Maple Creek, Sask., where has parents played host to "a house full" of supporters. The congratulatory messages have been rolling in ever since.

"It's amazing," said Smith. "I come from a small town (population 2,198), so everybody's rooting for me. It's been awhile since someone's played professional hockey out of Maple Creek (Barry Dean with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1978-79), so it's pretty exciting."

"It's amazing. I come from a small town (population 2,198), so everybody's rooting for me. It's been awhile since someone's played professional hockey out of Maple Creek, so it's pretty exciting." - Zack Smith
The Senators (26-21-4) are rather enthused themselves about their current four-game winning streak and the fact their lineup is getting healthier by the day. Michalek returns tonight and Clouston suggested that centre Jason Spezza, who skated with the team this morning, could be good to go as soon as Saturday, when the Senators close out their season series with the Bruins in Boston (1 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).

"I’ve got to get a couple of good skates with the team first,” Spezza told the Ottawa Sun. “I’m feeling pretty good. I think they just want to make sure that I’m all right and (the injured knee) doesn’t become something that comes back. I’m getting excited to get back in there.”

Michalek, meanwhile, will be eased into the lineup in his first game back since suffering a concussion Jan. 7 against the Washington Capitals. He skated on the fourth line with Smith and Jonathan Cheechoo during the morning skate, but Clouston said the Czech winger is likely to see power-play and penalty-killing duty as well.

"I know the guys have won four in a row and they're on a roll, so they don't want to mess with the lineup," said Michalek. "Any role, I'm happy with (tonight)."

Around the boards

After limiting the Bruins and Blackhawks to just a pair of goals in back-to-back wins, Brian Elliott makes his third straight start in goal tonight ... Donovan and defenceman Alex Picard are the healthy scratches ... The rest of the Senators line combinations during the pre-game skate: Nick Foligno-Mike Fisher-Daniel Alfredsson, Ryan Shannon-Peter Regin-Alex Kovalev and Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil ... Kovalev will skate in his 1,200th career NHL game this evening ... Fewer than 3,500 tickets remain for tonight's game.

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