OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators have the playoffs in their sights, knowing success at home could make the way to the post-season a lot easier.
The Senators (35-25-8) play six of their next eight at Scotiabank Place where they have a 17-13-3 record.
First up are the conference-leading New York Rangers on Thursday.
Two other visitors, Pittsburgh and New Jersey, are potential first-round opponents and the remaining three are against teams currently out of the playoff picture: Buffalo, Montreal and Toronto. The two road games are also against Montreal.
However the Senators have had their share of struggles against lower-placed opponents.
Ottawa is 3-1-1 against the Sabres, whom they play Saturday. Buffalo is 6-1-1 in its last eight and desperate to make a late push to the post-season.
With three games against the Canadiens, the Senators will need to improve on their 1-2 record in their first three meetings.
The Senators have held the edge over the Leafs with a 3-2 record, but, with Toronto fans often taking over Scotiabank Place, home ice can often feel intimidating when the two meet in the Battle of Ontario.
“I think when we're playing teams now we're saying it's more about us and less about them,”said rookie Jared Cowen.“When we're playing well and playing the way we want to it usually makes the game a lot easier for us and ends up the way we want it too. More often than not we're not worrying about what they're doing or how they're situation is going because it doesn't really matter because we have a good enough team in here to do well and make the playoffs and make a push.”
Players say they have an idea of who's coming up in the schedule, but prefer to keep their sights set on the short-term.
“It's tough to say some games are more important than others,”said captain Daniel Alfredsson.“Every game the standings change and we're just going to treat the next game as the next important one and that's sort of been the theme for us all year and that's not going to change.”
Alfredsson believes the team, which boasts an 18-12-5 away record, could benefit from playing as if it was on the road.
“We make it a little bit complicated at home sometimes,”he said.“I think especially our special teams too are better on the road. You just keep things simple, you don't force things. You're more patient on the road than you are at home and that's something I think we'll try to focus on here down the stretch.”
Sitting seventh heading into Wednesday, with an eight-point lead over the ninth-place Washington Capitals, the Senators feel good about their chances, but are definitely not over-confident by any means.
“We still have too much hockey to play here,”said Alfredsson.“The preparation comes in playing every game hard and if you do that you're going to be ready if you make the playoffs. We're going to keep playing hard until the very last game and hopefully we're healthy and ready to go.”
The Senators remain without goaltender Craig Anderson, who injured his right hand in a freak accident two weeks ago, and remains sidelined indefinitely.
Ben Bishop, acquired from the St. Louis Blues prior to the trade deadline, made his debut Tuesday in Tampa in a 7-3 victory. Facing the Rangers will likely prove to be a much bigger challenge for the six-foot-seven Bishop who has just 14 games of NHL experience.
“It was just nice to get the win, the guys played great,”said Bishop.“It's nice to get off on the right foot.”
While Bishop's immediate future with the Senators remains unsure, the team is going to give him an opportunity in order to better evaluate the 25-year-old at the NHL level.
Senators coach Paul MacLean is impressed by what he has seen so far.
“He looked real big in the net and I thought he played well and thought he made a couple of really big saves when the game was 3-2 and again late in the game when they made a push,”said MacLean.“For coming in and not really knowing a whole lot of people and knowing a whole lot of how we play the game, except for the three games he played in Binghamton, we thought he played fine.”
For now MacLean intends on taking things game-by-game before making any firm decision on his goaltending situation prior to Anderson's return.
Bishop is due to start Thursday against the Rangers.
Notes: C Jason Spezza and D Erik Karlsson missed practice Wednesday, but both will play Thursday. D Chris Phillips who suffered a broken nose in Tuesday's game against Tampa is expected to play Thursday, with a facial shield.