OTTAWA – Hockey Day in Canada could prove to be a memorable one for fans of the Senators.
With a victory over the Montreal Canadiens in a nationally-televised matinee on home ice Saturday, Ottawa will set a new franchise record with its ninth straight win – not that the Senators are counting.
“The wins are more important than the records,” centre Jason Spezza said following the team’s practice Friday. “We just want to keep playing good hockey and if we set the record, it’ll be nice. We’ve gone this far. We might as well try to get the record.”
The Senators equalled the franchise high of eight victories in a row Thursday night with a 4-1 victory over the Penguins in Pittsburgh, but coach Cory Clouston insists the record isn’t even on the team’s mind.
“No one would even have known if you guys wouldn’t have brought it up,” he said Friday.
He’s only got that part right.
Ottawa’s latest win has it within distance of moving into the Top 4 seeds in the Eastern Conference playoff race and every victory represents another step toward cementing a playoff spot after missing out last season. That’s the more important goal, but the team record would make a nice footnote to the season.
“Obviously, it would be nice to be part of that,” centre Chris Kelly said. “But we’re not looking too far ahead. Tomorrow’s a big game, we want to come out and have our best effort. In the past people have been saying you’re trying to set a record here, but we’ve been just trying to take it one game at a time and we’ve been successful for that.”
Despite arriving back in Ottawa in the wee hours Friday, the Senators were back on the ice preparing for the visit by the Canadiens.
Winger Alex Kovalev was given the day off to rest, but even injured goaltender Pascal Leclaire, who’s been cleared to practise after suffering a concussion and could be ready to play within the next week, was on the ice.
With success coming fast and furious, heading down the rink is an easy thing to do these days.
“The wins are coming and it’s always a better atmosphere around the room and guys are having a lot more fun. Everybody just feeds off of it,” Spezza said.
Spezza scored again Thursday to make it three games in a row since returning from a 20-game absence with a knee injury that he’s found the back of the net.
At practice, the Senators were joined by a local minor hockey team as part of the preparations for CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada festivities and, after their own drills, mingled and skated with the minor players.
“When you’re a hockey fan growing up and getting to meet your idols, it’s pretty exciting,” Spezza said. “I had a couple of brushes with some great hockey players (in his youth) and it’s stuff that I still remember to this day, so you just try to make it exciting for them and something they’ll remember.”
A win Saturday will make sure the 2009-10 Senators are remembered, at least in the franchise record book.
The Senators have had some pretty high-powered teams in the past, winning at least 48 games four times in the previous eight seasons including a pair of 52-victory campaigns. However, the eight wins in a row attained from Oct. 13 to Nov. 6, 2007, were the most success any of those previous editions has had.
So it’s with some surprise that this year’s squad – admittedly less talented on paper than most of those past teams – is the one with the chance to set a new benchmark for success.
“We’ve improved a lot this year in a lot of different areas from the start of the year,” said centre Mike Fisher, whose 18th goal of the season Thursday tied him for the team lead along with left-winger Milan Michalek.
“We’ve just come together as a team, really,” Fisher said. “We may not have as much skill as we did on some teams, but the way we’ve been playing together as a team – our depth is unbelievable and our goaltending has really been great. That’s why we’ve been successful.”
Fisher said the makeup of the team has also made a difference, validating the work of general manager Bryan Murray.
Murray, either through choice or by having his hand forced in one way or another, has shed the team of some faces that, right or wrongly, were portrayed to have been negative influences around the team.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that care in here and there’s a lot of good people and Bryan’s done a good job with that,” Fisher said. “And we want to win – our coaching staff and has done a good job of getting us prepared and giving us everything we need to get ready. It’s just a matter of executing, which we’ve done lately.”