LONG ISLAND — Oddsmakers looking for something to do before setting their final Super Bowl lines could actually make the Senators a favourite Saturday night.
Yes, that’s the same Senators who would be on a 15-game losing streak if not for a Jan. 13 blip on the radar. That aberration, you’ll remember, was at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where they will again do a drive-by on their all-time favourite victims, the Islanders.
The Senators have won 42-of-69 games against the Islanders, including both times they’ve played them this season. They’ve also only lost eight times in regulation in the 35 times they’ve played here. Eight.
Add to the fact that Jason Spezza is making his return to the lineup after missing 15 games (no pure coincidence if you’re wondering about the last time you read that number), and that the Senators’ embarrassing offence erupted for five goals last time out, and that the Islanders have again lost starting goalie Rick DiPietro to injury ... and all of a sudden Ottawa coach Cory Clouston was answering questions about the fear of his team taking another too lightly.
“We can’t disrespect any opponent by not giving them our best from here on in,” said Clouston.
The game is the first stop on a nine-day road trip for the Senators, who will fly across the continent immediately after Saturday’s game.
“Right now, we’re just basically playing it one game at a time,” Clouston said of the journey that will also include visits with the Canucks (Monday), Flames (Wednesday) and Oilers (Saturday). “It’s not easy when you go from New York to Vancouver, and we’re flying through the night. So we’re going to have to make sure we have the right times to practice, the right times to give them maybe a day off ... make sure we keep our energy level high and our focus where we need it to be.”
One guy who will have all sorts of energy is Spezza, who watched his team score just 28 goals (including 11 in two games) without him. Clouston said he won’t ease his No. 1 centre back into the fray.
“He’ll get a regular shift,” said Clouston. “He said it’s no fun being out with injuries. It’s harder work being bag skated every day. He says he’s in good shape. He’s ready.”
Also anxious to get back are Peter Regin, Alex Kovalev and Milan Michalek. That newly formed line combined for eight points in the 7-5 loss to Detroit on Wednesday, including Regin’s long-awaited second goal of the season.
Clouston said Regin, who wound up with three points, played his best game of the season. Regin didn’t necessarily agree, nor did he take a lot of pleasure from the evening.
“It feels good to finally get on the sheet again, but we didn’t get the win so it doesn’t matter,” said Regin, who admits the Senators may have some added confidence given Saturday’s venue. “The way it is right now, we’ve lost so much, obviously it feels good that we’re going into a place where we know we won last time, and where we won last year, too. That gives us some confidence. I believe the way we played last game (vs. Detroit), if we can continue that, I’m sure we’ll get at least another win this year.”
Regin stopped and restarted after checking to see if his audience picked up on his humour.
“I’m just kidding,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll win soon. Hopefully (Saturday). We have Spez back now. That means a lot. Hopefully, we can get it together and start winning games. And play fun hockey for the fans to come out and watch. Hopefully, they enjoyed it the other night. It must have been an exciting game to watch. If we can continue that, it will be exciting.”