Smart Alex set to collide

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

When you're a team looking to try and build on some modest success, you probably would want a little different situation than the one in which the Senators will find themselves tonight.

After collecting five out of eight points on their recent road trip, the Senators will be looking to improve on their 1-4-1 record at Scotiabank Place against the Capitals (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet).

Apart from the fact the Caps owned the Senators last season, posting a 4-0 record while outscoring the Senators 22-12 in the process, Washington will be getting star Alex Ovechkin back in the lineup after missing the last two games (the first he's missed in 2 1/2 years) to return to Russia to visit his ailing grandfather.

According to reports out of the American capital, Ovechkin, who's off to a slow start this year with just two goals and none in his last six games, is chomping at the bit to get going again.

"I just want to go right now on the ice and play hockey. I'm so happy right now I'm skating with my teammates," Ovechkin told reporters in Washington after an hour-long practice yesterday.

"When you have somebody for 203 straight games, and then you miss somebody of his stature, when he comes back it's like your big brother's back," said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau. "You're happy to see him. And you're happy to see him smiling again."

It was a big love-in for the Caps yesterday as Ovechkin thanked Capitals GM George McPhee for the leave of absence to be with his fraternal grandfather, who helped raise Ovechkin.

"It shows you how good people (they are) here -- how they love me, how they respect me and how they respect my family," Ovechkin said.

The Senators, who lost to the Leafs, beat the Sabres and Panthers and lost in a shootout to the Lightning on their trip, will have Alex Auld in net for his sixth straight start (2-2-1).

"It's nice to get in there and I've been feeling pretty comfortable," said Auld. "It's been good for me that we've clamped down on our structure a little more. It's made my job a lot easier. It's been a lot more predictable and we're covering off a lot of the rebounds and making sure I can see the puck. All those things make it easier for the goalie.

"The trip was good to get that base and kind of find an identity in our end. I think we've been a lot more consistent."

Senators coach Craig Hartsburg, while recognizing the challenges the Capitals will present with the return of Ovechkin and the fact they are coming off a 5-0 spanking from the Sabres, said he is not allowing those things to detract from the vision he has for his own club. There are recent signs the Senators are starting to play with a clue in their own zone.

"When a team loses bad and they get their best player back, it's certainly going to give them energy. Again, the focus for us is to get our game at its highest level," said Hartsburg. "The focus was real good in some areas (during the road trip) that we struggled in previous games. We've made some strides and now we've got to continue here in our building and do the same things.

"We're trying to build it so it doesn't really matter what type of team we're playing, you come out and play the way we want to play and give yourself a chance for success."

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said while his club is still a work in progress, the road trip bodes well for the club's fortunes.

"It was a big trip for us, to be honest. We started playing a lot better the last three games. The Toronto game wasn't part of that, but we showed signs of being a real consistent team and giving ourselves a chance to win every night," he said. "I really liked the way we played, so hopefully we can continue that at home here these next two games."

The Senators host the Flyers on Thursday and are in Carolina to face the Hurricanes on Friday.


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