TORONTO -- Not surprisingly, one emotion dominated Daniel Alfredsson's thoughts yesterday when he was asked to look back on what will be an unusually short season for the Ottawa Senators.
"It might be more of a relief that a very frustrating season is over," said the Senators captain, who might not suit up for tonight's season finale against the Toronto Maple Leafs because of nagging back injury.
"When you start seeing the (playoff) games on TV, that's when you know you want to be there. Hopefully, that motivates us to work even harder this summer."
Alfredsson does take some solace in the team's strong finish under new coach Cory Clouston, who has a record of 19-10-4 since he replaced Craig Hartsburg behind the bench Feb. 2.
Still, that doesn't do much to ease the sting of missing the post-season.
"I doesn't feel too good because we're not in the playoffs, and that's ultimately what you set your sights on at the start of the season," said Alfredsson.
"It's a long season, and you play the 82 games just to work to get into the playoffs. There have been some good things and some ups and downs for the team and for me personally. I feel really encouraged about where this team is headed. I guess the thing is, I'm looking forward to getting back next year."
The Senators knew when Clouston was hired their chance of making the playoffs was remote, but the team has improved dramatically under the rookie coach.
The players have bought into Clouston's system, and although the Senators' resurgence came too late to make a playoff run, it bodes well for next season.
"We did a good job of getting ourselves back in the picture, but we knew we were longshots for a long time," said Alfredsson.
"It's obviously been the most frustrating year of my professional career. You learn a lot from adversity. I think we've grown tighter as a group, and knowing that (Clouston) is coming back next year, we know right away about the system we're going to play going into camp. Camp will be good for us to get ready for the season. We know what we're going to get into. I think we're optimistic."
Alfredsson said the reality of missing the playoffs likely won't hit him until the first round starts on Wednesday.
"The way we're playing, we want to keep it going," he said. "When the playoffs start and you see the other games on TV, that's when it's tough. You watch the atmosphere of the buildings and the focus on the players. That's what everybody wants to be a part of. That's when it's toughest."
Off the glass
There will be a familiar face in the crowd tonight in Toronto. Leafs president and GM Brian Burke made a classy move by inviting Ottawa 67's GM Brian Kilrea to attend the game with his wife Judy. Kilrea is retiring from coaching, and he'll receive a tribute on the scoreboard at the ACC ... A player getting consideration to play for his country at the world championship in Switzerland later this month is American LW Nick Foligno. He has had a solid season with 17 goals and 15 assists for 32 points going into tonight's final game. RW Dany Heatley is the only player officially invited by Team Canada so far, but C Mike Fisher, D Chris Phillips and C Jason Spezza are also likely to get the call ... The Senators will hold discussions with D Erik Karlsson's representatives this weekend. The Senators would like Karlsson to come to training camp next September. Even if he doesn't make the team, he wouldn't be assigned to a junior franchise. He is feeling pressure to play in Sweden next season, but the Senators want him to stay in North America.