Sens seek one more for the road
Team has chance to make smash hit of tricky trip west
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.”