Double Dan-tastic for Sens

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

Put into racing parlance, it appears the No. 15 horse will come from behind to beat the No. 11 horse at the wire.

But it also looks like it'll only be by a nose.

Just like in their good old days, Jason Spezza was flanked by his very favourite Dans -- Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson -- at Senators practice yesterday. The Big Three were flying up and down the ice during line rushes, leading to speculation that both Heatley and Alfredsson could possibly return from injury for tonight's Scotiabank Place meeting with the Florida Panthers.

The speculators were only half right.

Heatley, who was supposed to be out 4-6 weeks with a separated shoulder, expects to play against Jacques Martin's team just three weeks and five days after the injury occurred.

Alfredsson, who has been day-to-day on two separate stints with a hip flexor problem since Heatley went out, will sit tonight for the sixth time in nine games. He is, however, optimistic about returning for the Hockey Day in Canada showdown here Saturday with the Habs.

"It's getting better," said Alfredsson. "I wish I was going to play (tonight), but the way it's going, I'm encouraged."

Meanwhile, Heatley's rate of recovery has been remarkable. Playing tonight will have him back at least four games sooner than some expected.

"If he's back, he deserves to be back," said coach John Paddock. "Because he put the time into it."

Heatley shrugs off talk of he has gone above and beyond to bounce back from his first visit to the injury list as a Senator.

'GET OUT OF THIS FUNK'

"We'll see how it is when I wake up (today), but it has felt pretty good all along," he said. "I just want to get back in there and like everybody else, help get us out of this funk."

And without Heatley and Alfredsson, what a funk it has become. The Senators have won just 3-of-11 games since Heatley rammed his shoulder into the end boards while backchecking, a concept that has become foreign to many Senators since.

They have dropped all five of those games that have also been missed by Alfredsson.

In the five games minus their two top snipers, they have scored just seven times and gone 2-for-16 on the power play.

"I think it lifts everybody's spirits to see them out there," said Paddock.

The Panthers arrive in town riding a three game winning streak, fresh off an 8-0 whipping of the Toronto Maple Leafs and four points away from the last playoff spot.

While the Senators have a one-point lead on Montreal for first in the conference, their recent play has made it necessary to also mention this: Ottawa is just nine points up on the Bruins, who currently have teams breathing down their backs for eighth place.

"There's always a turning point in a season," said Spezza.

"We're hoping after three wins in (11 games) this will be our turning point. We realize we're good, but we're not good enough to play without some structure to our game."


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