BOSTON -- For the Senators, "the dog days of winter" John Muckler refers to are apparently R-over.
Since the Olympic break, they have proceeded at a rapid, 7-1 pace that has included a four-game and a current three game win streak separated only by a 6-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on what better teams find to be a distracting trade deadline eve.
During those seven wins, they have looked a lot more like the Senators club that jumped off to a sizzling 19-3 season start than the dawdling bunch that went 10-10 from Jan. 2 until the schedule's two-week intermission that began Feb. 11.
Perhaps most impressive is that they've done it without star goalie Dominik Hasek, who will test the progress of his adductor injury with a casual skate here today.
"I think we're playing a little differently," coach Bryan Murray said yesterday before the team flew to Boston for tonight's game against the Bruins. "We're checking a little better, playing better in our own end, not giving up odd-man rushes very often.
"As good? We're very similar to the way we were early in the year, I think."
Concentrating on a more playoff oriented style, Murray was elated at the way the Senators stole Tuesday's game from the desperate defending Stanley Cup champs.
A goal by Daniel Alfredsson, on another sweet pass by Jason Spezza, with just seven seconds left turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"In the last minute, to make a play like we did to win the game .... that was championship calibre hockey, to me," he said.
The assist, Spezza's third of the game, was also his 52nd of the season, setting a new franchise record for most helpers in a season.
The previous record holder, Alfredsson, had two points on the night, breaking his personal best of 80 points in a season. He now has 82 and is on the path to shattering Alexei Yashin's team record 94 points as well as reaching triple figures.
"This year a lot of guys are getting personal highs," said Alfredsson. "You don't think about it now ... you're more caught up in everything else you're doing. Fortunately, we have you guys (in the media) to remind us of those other things."
If there was a touch of sarcasm in that last remark, Murray had his own fun with reporters when talking about the "relationship" between Alfredsson and Spezza a little later. While his line juggling has had them apart recently, the coach said he'd probably start the pair together tonight (with Heatley) but that he wouldn't be adverse to shaking things up again.
"I think they're really excited when you put them back together," he said. "They're so pumped up, they get that extra adrenaline going and they control the puck.
"It gets to the point sometimes when they're not happy with each other and they're not giving each other the puck when they want it. You have to break them up, then get them back together. That's relationships."
Meanwhile, there's also a sense of excitement that Hasek, like Martin Havlat, is showing signs of returning to the lineup. Hasek's is the more subtle of the two, however. While Havlat has been practising with the team for weeks, Hasek merely accompanied the Senators to Boston yesterday.
While he'll take the ice after the Senators morning skate, it won't be in equipment.
"We've got to figure out if he can skate before he takes shots," said Murray.
Ray Emery will make his ninth consecutive start as Ottawa faces a Bruins team that really can't afford to lose any more games, As of yesterday, the B's were 13th in the conference, 10 points out of a playoff spot.
Murray resisted the temptation of giving Mike Morrison his first start in goal. Morrison is from nearby Medford, Mass., too.
"I thought about it ... and we're starting Ray," he said. "Ray has played really well. His future now, compared to what it was at the Olympic break, is so much brighter."
As is his team's.