Sens seek one more for the road

Team has chance to make smash hit of tricky trip west

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - ALLEN PANZERI

VANCOUVER • Never have the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors swept a Western Canada road trip.

They haven’t even won here in Vancouver since the 2003-04 National Hockey League sea­son.

So they find them­selves with a rare op­por­tu­nity to con­quer the west af­ter sweep- ing Al­berta with a 3-1 vic­tory against the Cal­gary Flames on Tues­day and a 5-2 tri­umph over the Edmonton Oil­ers on Thurs­day.

It looks en­tic­ingly pos­si­ble, too, with the de­fend­ing Western Con­fer­ence-cham­pion Canucks strug­gling at .500.

How­ever, Sen­a­tors coach Paul Ma­clean preached cau­tion on Satur­day.

The Canucks may have been ripped 5-1 by the Chicago Black­hawks on Wed­nes­day, prompt­ing coach Alain Vigneault to put them through a pun­ish­ing skate on Thurs­day, but they’re still not, say, the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets or the Win­nipeg Jets.

“Well, they’re an elite team, and we’ve had some strug­gles against elite teams to this point in the sea­son, and that’s not sur­pris­ing, I guess,” Ma­cLean said. “But, against other teams that are closer to us, we’ve played real well.

“This is an op­por­tu­nity for us, I guess, to mea­sure our­selves with the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal­ists and see where we are. The last time we played the Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­ons, it didn’t go real good (a 5-3 loss to the Bos­ton Bru­ins on Nov. 1), so this could be an­other test for us.

“But I think we’re go­ing to be ready for it. They’re a good team … and they’re go­ing to be dif­fi­cult.”

This stretch in which the Sen­a­tors play six con­sec­u­tive games and nine of 10 on the road ap­peared to set up as a defin­ing mo­ment for the team.

They started it with a loss to the Buf­falo Sabres, their fifth in a row. It could have eas­ily gone side­ways from there.

How­ever, the Sen­a­tors beat the Toronto Maple Leafs the next night and then swept through Al­berta, im­prov­ing to 10-9-1 for the sea­son.

Gen­eral man­ager Bryan Murray con­ceded he had some con­cerns when he looked at this part of the sched­ule. A long los­ing streak at the start of the sea­son can dev­as­tate morale.

“You look at some of these trips dur­ing the year and you say, ‘Oh, boy, this could be tough,’ ” Murray said.

“But this has been real sat­is­fy­ing for us: the Toronto game and the Cal­gary and Edmonton games.” FOR MORE COV­ER­AGE on the Sen­a­tors and a pre­view of tonight’s game, go to:

“In Cal­gary, in a 0-0 game, we had great poise, we didn’t give up much, and we had to get goal­tend­ing, and ob­vi­ously we got goal­tend­ing,” Murray said. “Then the fourth line, Bobby But­ler, gets two goals for us. That’s start­ing to show what we have in the lineup.

“It’s good to have your top two guys or top three play­ers carry the ball, but, when you have those sec­ondary guys scor­ing goals and show­ing (that) they be­long in the league and that they’re start­ing to play, then you’re start­ing to be a good team.”

What Murray likes even more is that the Sen­a­tors are start­ing to be more con­sis­tent. The wild swings have been lev­elled out, and play­ers are pay­ing greater at­ten­tion to what they’re sup­posed to be do­ing.

“We’re not giv­ing up the scor­ing chances that we were early on,” Murray said.

“We’re hav­ing peo­ple get to the net. It looks we’re hav­ing fun in the game.

“It looks like there’s good chem­istry on the team, and I think that in it­self grows into some­thing bet­ter as we go for­ward … grows into wins, we hope.”

If the Sen­a­tors win tonight, this will be con­sid­ered a great road trip. Even if they don’t, it will still be a good road trip, though Ma­clean won’t call it a defin­ing mo­ment.

“For me, it’s too much,” he said.

“We want to go game by game.

“When we started this road trip, we had lost five in a row. We lost our fifth in Buf­falo. Then we went into Toronto and we win one. Now we’ve won three in a row.

“Some­times when you go on the road, it’s a lit­tle bit eas­ier. I think our team has played with good pa­tience, and (the play­ers have) had an op­por­tu­nity to get to­gether and spend some time with one an­other, the bond­ing part of it.

“I think this trip has helped us grow as a team, and you can grow both (win­ning and los­ing), but it’s way bet­ter to grow when you’re win­ning.”

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