Michalek good to go

Milan Michalek is expected to return to the Ottawa Senators lineup for Tuesday's game against the...

Milan Michalek is expected to return to the Ottawa Senators lineup for Tuesday's game against the Atlanta Thrashers. (QMI Agency)

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:49 PM ET

More than 6,400 kids from 233 classes in 61 schools took a field trip to Scotiabank Place to watch the local NHL team practise Monday.

“That was loud,” coach Cory Clouston said afterward and then, with what seemed like a jab at the generally reserved Senators hockey fans, added: “They can make some noise in that building.”

With all the screaming and cheering from the children, Clouston could barely hear himself think. One of the things he was thinking, the media found out at his daily press conference, is that Milan Michalek and Filip Kuba looked like they’d be good to play in Tuesday’s game against the Thrashers.

In the dressing room a few minutes later, Kuba was not thinking the same thing.

“No, probably not,” said the towering defenceman, who hasn’t played since March 18 in Atlanta because of first back problems that required surgery and then, on the first day of camp, a fractured fibula. “It was a good day (Monday), though. It felt better than the other days, that’s for sure. But not (Tuesday). It’s still weak.

“It’s (just a matter of) getting confidence in it, getting it at the level I know I can play, and be competitive out there.”

As frustrated as he is, Kuba says there’s no sense harping about his bad luck.

“Positive,” he said. “It was better (Monday).”

Zipping around with confidence was Michalek, who has missed four games with tendinitis around his surgically repaired knee.

“It felt pretty good (Monday),” said the winger, who will be back on the first line alongside Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson. “We’ll see in the morning skate, but if it feels like (Monday) I’m going to play for sure.”

Management must feel certain Michalek will show up at the rink without issue, as Zack Smith was returned to Binghamton Monday.

Meanwhile, the Senators have done a pretty good job surviving the early season rash of injuries. They have won three games in a row to move over the .500 mark and, by defeating the Thrashers, could slip into a tie with the Canadiens for first place in the Northeast Division.

They also feel they have reason to believe their situation will only get better.

Close is the day Clouston should have a full roster to work with for the first time since Oct. 28, 2009.

“We’ve gone through a lot of adversity as far as injuries are concerned,” he said. “To me, it’s a credit to the players. They’ve adapted and adjusted well. To me, that’s going to give us some positive outcomes as the season goes on.”

Don’t be surprised if Clouston goes with Pascal Leclaire in goal against Atlanta, even though Brian Elliott has made 10 straight starts and is on a roll. Since returning from a groin injury last week, Leclaire has spent the last three games on the bench as backup, and Clouston knows he needs to get him some action.

Clouston stopped short of declaring Elliott his No. 1 goalie Monday, but did commend him on taking advantage of the opportunity presented him by Leclaire’s injury.

Before giving up one he should have had off the stick of Brian Gionta in the third period Saturday, Elliott had strung together the consistency, along with improving his record to 7-4 while lowering his GAA to 2.89 and bumping his save percentage to .907.

“There’s going to be bad nights, there’s no hiding that,” said Elliott. “Every goalie, every team has that. It’s the way you respond and how you come back and play the next (game).

“We’ve already had almost a little roller-coaster to start the season, so we just want to even it out, play consistent, and definitely have that swagger, and have that confidence and a little bit of cockiness on the ice.”

Helping guys feel better about themselves has to be screaming fans at a morning practice — even if this crowd was mostly excited about getting a few hours off school.

“It was good. It was fun,” Clouston said of Monday’s practice. “A lot of energy in there. It was great to see. The guys liked it.

“I don’t know if my ears can take many of those, though.”

Yeah, right. He’d like nothing better than for his team to make the fans scream that loud Tuesday night.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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