Senators gear up for Crosby, Malkin

DON BRENNAN, Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:45 PM ET

A day after enjoying their turkey dinners, the Senators would like nothing better than to feast on some more bird.

On their menu tonight is Penguin.

A visit from Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and the Stanley Cup champs from Pittsburgh comes at a perfect time for an Ottawa club that has the hockey world — including itself — wondering exactly how good it is.

Beating the Penguins tonight (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200) would give the streaking Senators a share of the Eastern Conference lead with Crosby’s crew and the New York Rangers.

Ah, if only something like that could be uttered around Easter too, eh? Senators fans would indeed be thankful.

“These games are big for us in October,” centre Chris Kelly said after Saturday’s 4-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers, the second of a four-game stretch at Scotiabank Place.

“We’re at home for a little bit and we want to win these games. These are games we need to win.

“When you look back in February or March, you don’t want to say, ‘if only we would have capitalized on those games in October.’ ”

Both the Senators and Penguins cancelled scheduled practices at Scotiabank Place Sunday, with coaches Cory Clouston and Dan Bylsma obviously satisfied with what they saw from their respective troops the night before.

In improving their record to 4-1, however, Toronto haters would say the Penguins barely had to extend themselves. On Air Canada Centre ice, they outshot the winless Maple Leafs 33-20 in a 5-2 win.

Meanwhile, the Senators were working up a considerably bigger sweat against Ilya Kovalchuk and an improving Atlanta club. They jumped off to a fast start with two goals before losing their lead almost as quickly. They reclaimed control when Mike Fisher got his body in the way of a puck that was leaving the Thrashers zone in the second, then essentially sealed the deal on a third-period play that a veteran defenceman like Ron Hainsey still must be very embarrassed about.

Resounding win

Their third ‘W’ in a row was both entertaining and cause to seriously consider the possibility the Senators’ current place in top spot in the Northeast Division might be more than just a fleeting and early moment in a long schedule.

It was a far cry from each of those the unconvincing, one-goal ho-hummers against Toronto and the New York Islanders earlier in the week.

Backup goalie Brian Elliott earned kudos after making 26 saves in his first start of the regular season, although Pascal Leclaire will surely be back between the pipes tonight.

“(Elliott was) very solid,” Clouston said. “I thought a couple of times we faltered and he was there for us. I thought we got a little bit stronger defensively as the game went on. They’re very dangerous off the rush. By far, that was the most dangerous attack we’ve faced so far this year (against Atlanta). It’s good experience for us, just to be able to adjust to the speed they’re coming at us. They do a lot of delayed plays and drive with second waves. We hadn’t see that type of attack yet. It was new to us, and I thought we made adjustments as the game went on. By the third period I thought we were pretty solid on the back check, shutting that down.”

At the same time, nobody’s kidding anybody here, either. The Thrashers are not the Pittsburgh Penguins. If you want a test, this is the best.

Clouston will want to have Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov on the ice as much as possible when Crosby and Malkin are hopping over the boards, but the top two NHLers without the initials A.O. are sure to cross paths at some point with rookies Erik Karlsson and Matt Carkner, who are averaging 18:02 and 17:51 of ice time, respectively, through five games.

Leclaire will also have to be solid, and the top-six forwards are going to have to start helping out lines three and four a little more, but if the Senators can bring it all together and stick a fork in the Penguin tonight, they’ll give this town something to flap about.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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