Vacation over for Senators

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

A popular vacation destination for Senators during the all-star break was Mont-Tremblant, where players yesterday admitted they welcomed and enjoyed the time off, but described the conditions as cold.

The task at hand now is for them to warm up again. In a hurry.

The Senators will put their modest yet nonetheless refreshing four-game streak with at least a point on the line tonight at Scotiabank Place against the even hotter New Jersey Devils, who have won five in a row.

Entering the stretch run, Ottawa has 38 games remaining and is an even dozen points back of eighth-place Carolina. The good news is the Senators have four games in hand on the Hurricanes. The bad news is there are four teams between Ottawa and the current holders of the last playoff spot.

"The guys certainly had a lot of energy, they looked fresh and excited to be out there," coach Craig Hartsburg said after a mid-afternoon practice. "We ended (the pre-break schedule) on a positive, and now we want to start out on a positive.

VOLCHENKOV BACK

"You're probably getting sick of hearing it, but we're taking it one day at a time now. We had a real good practice, and now we're going to continue to try and stretch (good play) 60 minutes. I still don't think we've done it over 60 minutes."

As for the deep, 12-point hole his team is in, Hartsburg added: "That's there. That's not going to go away unless we cut into it. We can't be looking at that every day. We have to just continue to win hockey games."

Returning to the Senators' lineup tonight will be defenceman Anton Volchenkov, who has missed the last eight games with a shoulder injury. The return of the team's most physical blueliner means that -- judging by yesterday's pairings -- Hartsburg will likely make either Brendan Bell or Jason Smith a healthy scratch.

AHL ALL-STAR

Brian Elliott, who had been scheduled to participate in the AHL all-star game last night, will make his sixth straight in the Ottawa goal.

With the Senators playing seven times in the next 12 days, Hartsburg said backup Alex Auld will "get a chance to contribute."

Elliott, meanwhile, said the break came at a "weird" time for him. You can understand why. In less than three weeks, the 291st pick of the 2003 NHL draft has gone from riding the buses in the AHL to Ottawa's No. 1 goalie -- although he refuses to consider himself the holder of that title just yet.

"It's good to get a break, and go into it on a high note, but you never want to stop your roll when you're on it," said Elliott, who is 3-1-1 with a 2.18 GAA and a .924 save percentage. "(Before getting to the NHL) you're always sitting around thinking, can I play at that level? You second-guess yourself sometimes, but once you get in a game and get a few wins, things start turning in your brain. Then you just go out there and play. It's easier, especially the way the guys are playing."

Indeed, the Senators have outscored the opposition 16-9 in the past four games. Along with strong goaltending, their power play has come to life, sniper Dany Heatley has rediscovered his touch and the Chris Kelly-Antoine Vermette-Jesse Winchester line is providing solid, two-way play.

Or at least that was the story before the all-star break.

"We were starting to feel better about our game," said centre Jason Spezza. "It's important to get back on that same track."

There's no time to waste.


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