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Senators hitting their stride as playoff season nears

By Murray Pam

OTTAWA – The Senators were mired in a five-game losing streak. They had just flown into New York City after being soundly “thrashed” by Atlanta 6-2. Instead of putting the players through their paces on the morning of Jan. 13, a fun outing was planned without coaches in attendance. The Senators booked the ice rink in Central Park to play some competitive dodgeball and handball.

While the players were out having their fun, goalie coach Eli Wilson was handed his walking papers. Ottawa’s goaltending tandem of Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott ranked as the worst pairing in the NHL when it came to team save percentage. They were both below .900 despite allowing a league low 27 shots per game.

The next morning things seemed to go from bad to worse. Leclaire was hit in the mask from a Mike Fisher shot and suffered a concussion. Brian Elliott was coming down with the flu. Mike Brodeur was summoned from Binghamton to Manhattan that morning. Brodeur arrived at Madison Square Garden in a limo complete with his equipment bag in tow. Brodeur surprisingly shut out the Rangers.

Since that day the Senators have reeled off another eight wins. Their current nine-game win streak is a team record. Ottawa has out-scored their opponents 30-10 during the span.

There have been many keys to this streak. First off was the return of the Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. Alfredsson had missed 11 games with a separated shoulder. He netted four goals and six points in his first two games back. Other injured parts – Milan Michalek, Nick Foligno and Jason Spezza – all were ushered back into the lineup. All players coincidentally scored in their returns.

Spezza was a surprise addition as he was projected to return after the Olympic break from his MCL injury. After a poor start to the season, he’s scored in all four games since his return. Spezza now sports a six game consecutive goal-scoring streak after tallying in the two games previous to the injury.

Brian Elliott has been the star performer during the win streak. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Boston, it was Brodeur who caught the flu bug. Elliott stepped in and defeated the Bruins and the Sens nemesis Tim Thomas. Thomas had reeled off 11 consecutive victories over the Senators.

Elliott’s stellar play was rewarded with an NHL first star for the week ending Jan. 24. His GAA is a miniscule 1.13 in the past seven games with a save percentage of .960.

“You never want to get too high or too low,” Elliott said.

This week marks a calendar year since Cory Clouston was named coach, replacing Craig Hartsburg. His record is an impressive 50-32-8 since taking over the helm. Clouston is a strong believer in “X’s and O’s” and is not known as a player’s coach. He seems unimpressed with winning nine consecutive games.

“Whether it is six in a row, eight in a row, whatever, you (the media) make more of it than we do,” Clouston said. “We just want to put ourselves into a better playoff position.”

The Senators have done just that. Ottawa has climbed from eight place in the Eastern Conference to fifth with 66 points. Nine more than their nearest competitors in Philadelphia and Florida.

Among the Senators nine wins are two each over divisional rivals Boston and Montreal. Also included are victories over New Jersey and Chicago. More impressive is that five of their wins have come on the road. Before the streak, Ottawa had only won six of 20 away from home.

The only negative occurred Saturday as Nick Foligno, who leads the club in plus-minus with a plus-12, suffered a broken right leg while blocking a slapper by Canadiens defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron. Foligno is expected to be out 6-8 weeks.

“He had just got it going after his injury,” said GM Bryan Murray. “It is bad for him.”

Jesse Winchester, who is healed from a dislocated kneecap, or Shean Donovan will step into the lineup. However a trade may be in the offing as Murray noted, “a team never has enough depth.”



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