Sens perplexed by pesky Isles

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

So frustratingly dominant was New York's pinstriped baseball team years ago that a Broadway musical was actually written about it.

In these parts, six or seven decades later, hockey fans can curse those Damn Islanders.

Their only domination is of one team.

The streaking Ottawa Senators would be only five points out of the playoffs right now had they won rather than lost their three meetings so far this season with the New York Islanders, who have a stranglehold on last place in the NHL.

PRECARIOUS POSITION

Instead, with 12 games left, the Senators are in the precarious position of entering tonight's game against the Isles at Scotiabank Place needing to defeat the pesky cellar-dwellers, then win their final 11 to have any hope of realizing their post-season aspirations.

"They caught us in a stretch where we weren't playing very well and they were playing pretty well, and they got the three on us," Senators winger Dany Heatley said yesterday.

"But we're not going to look back too much on it. There's other stretches, not only against them, where we didn't play that well earlier in the year."

There are other stretches where the Senators actually stunk, but they do seem to have their act together now.

Four months removed from a November to forget that included at 3-1 loss to the Islanders here on the 13th, then 3-2 and 4-2 losses in Long Island on the 15th and 29th, Ottawa has won seven of its last eight and six in a row on home ice.

In fact, the Senators are behaving more like the team that used to out-and-out own the Islanders.

Heading into this season, the Sens had a 36-11-11-1 record vs. the New Yorkers. From Feb. 12, 1996 until March 2, 2000, they went 17 straight games without losing to Denis Potvin's old team.

How things change.

"We struggled a lot, but for some reason against Ottawa ... they're a good team, we knew that, but we came to play," said defenceman Chris Campoli, who was traded from the Islanders to the Senators along with Mike Comrie a week before the deadline.

"They work hard and they keep things simple over there. They're a tough team to beat. Anybody on any given night can win in this league. We can't take them lightly, otherwise they'll come in and beat us. Again."

Comrie, who has missed the last two games with the flu, practised yesterday and said he'll be ready to go tonight.

"The way we're playing right now, we're going to try and worry about ourselves," said Comrie, who has two goals and three assists since the trade, which saw the Senators send fourth-line centre Dean McAmmond and a late first-round pick to the Islanders. "They work hard, but if we stick to our game plan and execute our plays, we've got a lot of skill over here."

Indeed, the Senators are once again believing in themselves. Their chances of making the playoffs? It's not something they dwell on.

"Everyone can read the stats," said coach Cory Clouston, who since taking over from the fired Craig Hartsburg has a 13-6-3 record. "They know where we're at. All we talk about is (tonight's) opponent and what we have to do to win the game. That's not going to change."

Still, somebody wins the 6/49 weekly draws, too. The Senators are more interested in that kind of talk than the lottery that sets the entry draft's selecting order.

'GOOD THING GOING'

"We know there's a possibility," captain Daniel Alfredsson said of making the playoffs. "It's not a big one, but if we keep going, why not? We've got a good thing going, and hopefully we can keep it going."

To be sure, there is a strong positive vibe in the Senators dressing room these days.

"We haven't let that thought creep into our mind, that we're out of it," said Nick Foligno. "We obviously know what the odds are, but we just want to continue to get better as a team. We're playing a game now where everyone is comfortable with it and we're enjoying having a lot of fun."

If they somehow miraculously extended Ottawa's string of playoff appearances to 12 seasons, what a story that would be.

"We're certainly going to keep playing like we have a chance," said Heatley. "We still do have a chance and we're going to try and win every game."

DON.BRENNAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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