Canadian showdown

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 1:24 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- Canucks defenceman Sami Salo was asked yesterday if he's been keeping a close eye on the Senators' progress.

"Yes, every night I watch them on the highlight reels," said the former Senators blueliner.

The Senators have been producing plenty of highlights this season en route to compiling the NHL's best record. That's why tonight's visit to GM Place is being called a big one for the Canucks. A headline on the front page of the Vancouver Sun billed it as "West vs. Best."

But the Canucks aren't the only team taking this game seriously.

"We want to prove we're the team to beat," Senators defenceman Zdeno Chara said yesterday. "I know that's a strong statement, but there's nothing wrong with saying it. We have to come out and play well. We have to prove we can beat teams like this."

INCONSISTENT

The Canucks badly want a win tonight, too, because they've struggled with consistency.

"This is only one game and if you lose it's not going to be the end of the world," said Vancouver captain Markus Naslund, who didn't skate yesterday because of a sore groin, but will be in the lineup.

"That being said, you take pride in these kinds of games and you take a lot from these. We don't play these guys very often, so we want to come out with a good performance."

The Canucks have spent a lot of time talking about how they're going to try and shut down the potent trio of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza.

"Apparently no one's been able to do it," said veteran centre Trevor Linden. "Okay, Boston did it. One team out of 30."

After losing only four times in their first 25 games, the Senators weren't surprised by the praise being heaped upon them as they prepare to open a three-game road trip that will also stop in Calgary and Colorado.

NO SURPRISE

"We're going to get that everywhere we go," said Spezza. "You have to come to expect that. When we went in Florida, they were saying the same things about trying to shut us down. That's just the way it's going to be everywhere."

Still, with winger Martin Havlat gone for at least four months with a shoulder injury, Senators coach Bryan Murray said he could shift his line combinations from time to time on the road.

"We might have to break them up every so often to help other lines have production and to get them away from matchup situations for other teams. That's something we will look at," said Murray.

AROUND THE BOARDS: Senators D Wade Redden took part in practice yesterday, but it's doubtful he'll return tonight from a sprained knee that has kept him out two weeks. It might make more sense for him to return Monday against the Avs, but the schedule hasn't been determined. "I'll make a decision (today),'' said Redden. ''There's some things out there I can't do. I might be better off to take a little bit more time, but we'll see how it reacts (to contact) and go from there. I'm hoping to get back in the lineup soon, but I don't think there is any sense in rushing it either. We want to make sure we do the right thing in this situation." ... Spezza said he doesn't think the heart setback suffered by Pittsburgh C Mario Lemieux makes any difference to his chances of going to the Olympics with Team Canada. "That's not really something I have thought about," said Spezza ... Senators GM John Muckler was surrounded by a pack of Vancouver media. He was asked if part of the reason the club hired Murray as coach was to change the personality of the team. "We didn't want to be the lambs anymore," said Muckler.


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