Sens could be in tough against several teams

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

"Damn, I don't want to meet them in the playoffs."

If you're a Senators fan, how often have you caught yourself uttering that statement?

Unfortunately, the list of teams most fans have been referencing seems to include the majority of the Eastern Conference.

Everyone refers to the playoffs as a clean slate, but it's those regular-season meetings that allow each club to slowly decipher the nuances of its opponents. And that euphemism doesn't eliminate star forwards or veteran goaltenders that would exist regardless.

About one-quarter of the NHL regular season remains with plenty of opportunity for movement, depending on the ebb and flow of scheduling.

Could Ottawa face some difficulties depending on their playoff draw? Let's take a closer look at a few teams:

Atlanta (regular-season record vs. Senators: 2-0) -- The Thrashers are on the bubble, but they've given the Senators some problems. The 8-3 pummelling the Sens received during their first matchup in January may partially be attributed to the fact Daniel Alfredsson was out of action at the time. But when other key offensive components don't step up, Ottawa can't capitalize on weaker goaltending. Dany Heatley was rendered a non-factor in both losses, with only two shots in each game. Some may blame this on an uncomfortable environment created by facing his old club. The likelier scenario sees the Thrashers being well versed in Heatley's M.O. because of his days in Atlanta. Ottawa still has the upper hand with defence and a presumably healthy Hasek, but Atlanta's speed and offensive firepower would prove challenging over a series.

Philadelphia (regular-season record vs. Senators: 2-1) -- Some may deem the Flyers to be a non-issue. Philly's currently on a nasty skid, and there would need to be some movement in the respective divisions for the possibility of a first-round series to occur. On top of that, Ottawa has been successful in previous playoff matchups against the Flyers. But look at it this way: When have the Senators ever had to deal with Peter Forsberg in the post-season? There are also new goaltending issues as Antero Niittymaki was named the tournament MVP at the Olympics last month. This isn't exactly Roman Cechmanek that we're dealing with. Philadelphia is a physical team with plenty of large bodies that will be looking to leave opponents with battle scars. If Ottawa faces the Flyers, the potential for injuries may the catalyst for disaster.

New Jersey (regular-season record vs. Senators: 1-1) -- Ottawa may look for some playoff redemption here but, unfortunately, Martin Brodeur was another goaltender that recently displayed an ability to shine. If the Senators caught Brodeur during a hot streak, the momentum could take a horrific turn. The Devils have also been a different club since the return of Patrik Elias, who was sidelined for a portion of the season with hepatitis A. He has racked up 21 points in only 18 games since he rejoined the team. The arrival of the creative Elias only helps to legitimize the Devils as a perceived threat.

Could Ottawa beat any of these teams? No doubt.

In spite of recent issues, the Senators remain an elite team and will be considered the favourite within any post-season matchup.

But have you really looked at the teams in the East?

Carolina: Neutral-zone congestion and hot goaltending.

The Rangers: Players like Jaromir Jagr and Darius Kasparaitis looking to inflict damage in more ways than one.

The Leafs: Not likely, but do we really need to discuss this?

Be honest. Is there anyone you want the Senators to face right now?

DOGGED BY SUCCESS: Did you know that Bode Miller is a champion? Ch. Hartgersotten's Bode Miller is a Standard Schnauzer who has been tearing it up on the Arizona dog show circuit. No word if the namesake also enjoys a Heineken gently poured into his food dish after his epic runs.

QUICK HITS: You got to love the video editors in charge of SportsCentre. When the opening highlights ran this week of Bryan Colangelo's first news conference with the Raptors, all that was shown was the new president/GM uttering the words "Toronto is a world-class city" ... Steroids or stuffing, it doesn't matter. You know you're a child of the notoriously insecure Cosmopolitan generation when you're jealous of Barry Bonds in drag, because he has a bigger chest than you.

erinnicks@yahoo.ca


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