LOS ANGELES - From where they sit, the Senators would be able to see the top of the Eastern Conference standings on a clear California day.
That’s because they can even spot it through L.A.’s smog.
Settled into a hotel across from the Staples Center for four days is the team deemed at the start of the season as one of the NHL’s least likely to succeed. And yet with a win Saturday afternoon down the road in Anaheim, the Senators could hit the 50-game mark of their schedule just one point out of first place.
Forget about the games-in-hand stuff for a minute. If the Bruins beat the Rangers in an earlier game, they’ll take over top spot with 63 points.
A Senators victory over the Ducks would give them 62.
Thirty-two years after the Americans beat their Russians for an Olympic gold medal, they’re writing their own Miracle on Ice.
“We’re aware of it, but it doesn’t change the way we approach things,” captain Daniel Alfredsson, who against the Ducks will suit up for his 1,100th NHL game, said of the team’s lofty position. “We’re just try to get as many points as we can.”
Good approach. But weren’t they trying to do that last season, too? An impressive, 4-1 dismantling of the San Jose Sharks Thursday was the Senators’ fifth road win in a row. A victory over the Ducks would be their 27th of the season, putting them almost two months ahead of their 2010-11 pace, when win No. 27 came Mar. 19.
“What we’ve achieved so far is testament to the work we put in,” said Alfredsson. “We have a feeling in the locker room where we if we’re down by two goals on the road, we can come back and win. We can get up by two or three and protect the lead as well.
“We just have a lot of energy in the room and we’re going to try and keep that going as long as we can. We’ve been very resilient, we’ve had a tough road trip, and schedule, but we put that aside and just try to do the best we can. Don’t look for excuses before the game starts.”
Even their losses aren’t bad.
It looked like they had lost Zack Smith to his first-ever concussion Thursday night. They even called up another centre, Stephane Da Costa, to replace him. But it now appears Da Costa just got an all-expenses paid vacation to Los Angeles, as Smith woke up Friday and felt fine.
“I think there’s a good chance,” Smith said after practice when asked if he’ll play against the Ducks. “No headaches, had a good sleep last night, which I think is a big part of it. This morning, it was just mostly my neck and it felt better, too.
“It’s fun to be around the team, it’s fun to be playing. You don’t want to miss any games.”
Kaspars Daugavins proved to be quick healer as well. When he blocked a Brett Burns slapshot in the first period, it was feared he had a broken leg. The x-rays were negative, and Daugavins also fully participated in practise Friday.
So maybe Andre Petersson’s debut gets put on hold.
“I think I can help the team (Saturday). I should be fine to play,” said Daugavins, who won’t hesitate to block the next shot. “I’m out there on the PK and the coach trusts me to do the job, and if I have to block a shot, I’ll go down.”
Goalie Craig Anderson, who will make his 12th straight start Saturday, says players are sacrificing themselves for the betterment of the team.
“Everybody feeds off each other,” said Daugavins. “When somebody takes a big hit, everybody gets a little more pumped for the next shot, somebody scores a goal, you keep going harder. If I block a shot, maybe somebody wants to block another one. It helps. As a group. Winning is not easy and everybody wants to do it so we do different things to help. Every player contributes to a win.”
Also hitting a milestone in Anaheim will be Chris Neil, who laces them up for his 700th game.
“Once you hit your 100th game, you’ve kind of established yourself. Now you just try to keep rolling,” said Neil. “It’s an honour to me. It’s been a lot of long hard miles for me, because I’ve been hard on my body, but I’ve hopefully got a lot more left in me.”
Neil was No. 12 on Sports illustrated’s recent list of top hitters in the NHL. Zdeno Chara was No. 1.
“I should have been higher.”
He’s quite likely to go out and prove it against the Ducks.