Flames aware heat on visitors in tonight's tilt

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

A little more than 18 months ago, the Ottawa Senators were in the Stanley Cup final.

A year ago, they were among the NHL's elite.

Since then, it's been plenty of downhill in the nation's capital.

The Sens limped into the 2008 playoffs and were swatted aside with relative ease by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

When they arrived yesterday in Calgary to face the Flames, they were clinging to 12th in the Eastern Conference, barely ahead of the Atlanta Thrashers.

Desperate times have come to the Senators, and the Flames are well aware.

"I think we've got to play like we've played the last few games. We've been playing pretty well. We can't worry about how they're playing," said Flames left-winger Rene Bourque.

"Even though they're struggling, they're still a pretty good team on paper and capable of putting a run together," Bourque continued. "They have guys that can score, so we can't take them lightly."

The Sens are on a skid with only one victory in the last four games and two in the last seven.

On the road, it's been a horror story -- winless in the last 10 (0-8-2). What once was a great offensive team is ahead of only the Tampa Bay Lightning on a goals-per-game basis.

However, this is the start of a seven-game trek, while the world juniors takes over Ottawa, and you can bet it's a squad that knows its season hangs in the balance and will fight tooth-and-nail to start this sojourn on a positive note.

"Those long trips, they're bad, especially this time of year," Bourque said.

"It's going to be a long December-January for them, but I know when we go on the road like that, it's important to get off to a good start."

Flames head coach Mike Keenan ran a tough practice yesterday at the Saddledome -- have to skate off the Christmas turkey, you know -- and was reminding his charges to be focused.

The lesson plan likely included a reminder how detrimental it is to take a team lightly.

"We have to play well," Keenan said.

"They've got some individual players that can break games open ... everybody knows who they are -- (Jason) Spezza, (Daniel) Alfredsson and (Dany) Heatley -- and they've got some good hockey players.

"You have to be aware of playing your own game, our game, well, both individually and as a group, and that's what we'll concentrate on."


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