Good tidings for Sens

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:13 AM ET

The Senators had plenty of reasons to be happy yesterday as they enjoyed Christmas.

Besides a two-day break in the NHL schedule, the Senators could be proud of the fact that they are in first place in the Eastern Conference with 50 points -- seven points clear of the second-place Devils with a game in hand.

The Senators, who face the Sabres tonight in Buffalo at 7, also appear to have avoided a Stanley Cup hangover -- despite a seven-game losing streak this season -- to go a 23-8-4 in their first 35 games.

"Coming back after playing in the (Stanley Cup final) is always a concern, and to have the start we've had is outstanding," said Senators GM Bryan Murray, who coached Ottawa to the final last season against the Ducks. "Being in first at this time of year is a real achievement for our group.

"There was a real commitment on the part of the guys. We've had some ups and downs since that big start, but I think it has to do with not paying as much attention to playing hard every night as we should be. Very definitely, we've got a good team, we've got a competitive group and our best players have been very good for us."

ON AN EVEN KEEL

Murray and coach John Paddock's only complaint has been a lack of consistency. While the Senators started the season winning 16 of their first 18 games, they also bumbled through a seven-game losing streak that stretched from late November to early December before turning things around.

"I'm not happy with some things again lately. I think when you look at the big picture, that's where you can't get too high and can't get too low," said Paddock. "We weren't very happy when we went seven without winning, but I don't think there's (any particular) reason and you still can't get too low with it.

"We're sitting in first place at Christmas. If you told me before the season started that we'd be ahead by (seven) points in the East, I'd take eight losses in regulation after (35) games. Any time you're at that pace, you're going to have a pretty good season."

Murray said the club's record doesn't mean he isn't trying to add a second-line forward or a depth defenceman.

"You always want to tinker when you're in this position," said Murray. "When you are in this job, you sit in your office and you're always trying to come up with something that might upgrade your team. There's no doubt I feel that to have a chance at the end of the year, we need to do something and I'm going to try to do that.

"For now, I'd rate us as one of the good teams in the league. Certainly, when we pay attention to our game, we display that every night."

Paddock said the Senators have several reasons to be happy, not the least of which is the play of centre Jason Spezza.

"There's lot of good things: Spezza is playing as good as he's ever played," said Paddock.

The Senators will return home after tonight's game to face the Islanders tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at Scotiabank Place.


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