Senators shooting for .500

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

SUNRISE, FLA. -- The road to respectability continues here tonight for the Senators.

The players had the option of relaxing by the pool yesterday, but most of them chose to go for a skate on the frozen pond at Bank Atlantic Center.

The Senators can reach the .500 mark for the first time since Game 2 of the NHL season with a victory over Jacques Martin's Florida Panthers tonight.

Goaltender Ray Emery will make his sixth straight start after recording victories in four of them.

Coming off a 3-2 overtime win over the Flyers in Philadelphia on Wednesday, 14 players took part in the optional skate while the others rested bumps and bruises as Ottawa attempts to extend its winning streak to a season-high four.

SEEKING CONSISTENCY

"We're trying to get back to start off with .500 and get some consistency," coach Bryan Murray said of his 10-11-1 club. "We still need better play out of a few people on this team overall, but we have other people stepping up and getting some goals for us."

Getting to .500 doesn't sound like a major step for a team picked as a Stanley Cup contender. But after enduring a five-game losing streak and falling four games below the mark, it would represent a move in the right direction.

"We've strung a few wins together. We've got to keep going," said defenceman Wade Redden. "We kind of got ourselves into a hole, and we've got to keep getting points and keep winning. We're fortunate we didn't get ourselves to the point of no return and we can get out of this.

"We've got to keep winning and keep climbing the standings because there's a lot of teams up there. Guys felt when we were four games (below .500) that if we got any further down, it was going to be tough to get out of. We get to (.500) and we can start from scratch."

12TH IN EAST

Of course, the Senators -- 12th in the Eastern Conference standings -- won't be satisfied just reaching the .500 mark.

"It's a very important step,'' assistant John Paddock said, ''but we want to win all three on this trip and get a couple of games over .500.

"Our expectations are higher for this team and that's the way we started the season. My feeling is, let's keep forging ahead and moving up in the standings. Let's get to a position in the division where we're in the middle of the pack in the top eight."

Several players have stepped up of late, with winger Peter Schaefer one of the most notable. He has nine points in his last five games, including three assists in the victory in Philly.

"I'm just trying to play my game," said Schaefer, who was pointless through the campaign's first 10 games while being hampered by a hip injury. "Early in the season, I wasn't getting into the corner and getting the loose pucks for (Daniel Alfredsson) or (Antoine Vermette) or whoever, but I think if I do that the other parts of my game will come together."

Now, it's all about consistency.

"Last year, we got off to such a good start, we weren't really involved (in any playoff race) and we were beating a lot of teams," said Alfredsson. "This year, you can see there are no easy games. Look at Philly, they're at the bottom of the standings and we win in OT."


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