GARDEN CITY, N.Y. -- If the Senators truly are in the process of a turnaround, much of it apparently has to do with how fast they are moving when in the south-bound lanes.
In winning their last two games, they have allowed just two goals and -- after a woeful 6-9-2 start -- they have fished the puck from their net just five times in their last four.
Seeing his team surrender but a handful of goals every four times out must be like viewing Baywatch reruns for coach Craig Hartsburg, who yesterday commended the play of goalie Alex Auld and the his team's improving commitment to defence.
The latter, he insists, is not exactly rocket science.
"If I'm the only coach in the league that asks forwards to backcheck," Hartsburg said while deflecting credit, "I've come up with a wonderful idea."
The Senators will try to win their third in a row tonight when they take on the Islanders, and they'll do so with at least one more Binghamton farmhand in their lineup. Upon arrival in Garden City, late yesterday afternoon, they revealed that defenceman Alexandre Picard suffered a sprained wrist in the third period of Thursday's shootout win over the Maple Leafs. To take his spot on the blue line, they have summoned former first-round pick Brian Lee, who played the first five games of the season in Ottawa before being sent to the AHL for some seasoning.
Picard's injury is supposedly not serious and there's hope he'll be able to play next Wednesday, when the Senators are at home to face Atlanta.
SENATORS RECALL SMITH
Also recalled yesterday was highly touted 20-year-old centre Zack Smith, who has been compared to a young Mike Fisher.
Smith, who led the Baby Sens with nine goals in 21 games, will make his NHL debut only if Shean Donovan can't shake off the "upper-body" injury that knocked him out of Thursday's game.
In the Islanders, Ottawa will be facing a team that was pelted 7-2 by the Bruins yesterday afternoon in Boston. But the Islanders handled the Senators twice last week, and an hour or so before they met up with the B's, Hartsburg praised them for their work ethic and said the 9-12-1-1 New Yorkers are "a hard team to play against and they're probably the surprise of the league right now."
Speaking of the unexpected, have you happened to notice the Senators' goals for-goals against numbers these days? While the only team in the NHL to give up fewer than the 52 goals allowed by Ottawa is the Western Conference's Wild, just the Panthers (49) had scored fewer than the Senators' 50 to date. And that was before Florida squared off with the Rangers last night.
Remember the good old days when the Senators were one of the top offensive teams in the league? You should. It's been the case the past decade.
"I think we're still capable of scoring a lot of goals, but our focus is to win games," said winger Dany Heatley. "Whatever it takes to win games. These are cycles you go through as individuals and as a team. History shows that you come out of it."
Heatley is on the down spin of a cycle himself, having scored just twice in the last eight games. He showed some temper in the second period of the Leafs game, slamming the boards hard with his stick after failing to slap the puck where he wanted it to go on a chance from the high slot.
"I wasn't frustrated at not scoring," he said. "I just didn't get the shot off how I wanted. It's no big deal.
"It's going to come," added Heatley, who still leads Ottawa with 11 goals but only has four at even strength. "I think the main thing is the chances we're generating. I think as a player or scorer, that's your main concern. Getting chances and eventually they're going to go in."
BIG LINE STAYING PUT
Hartsburg will keep the Heatley-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson line together tonight even though it has not produced the way it was expected to. They have scored just three even-strength goals in the four games since their latest reunion.
"They're okay," the coach said when asked about the trio's consistency. "The thing is they know they can play better. They know they can do more."