OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators may have clinched a playoff spot, but they still have much to prove.
After finishing eighth last season and surprising many by qualifying for the playoffs, this year's team set its sights on improvement.
With a 2-1 overtime win Thursday against the Washington Capitals the Senators clinched a playoff berth, but with two games remaining the Senators could finish as high as sixth.
"We'd like to finish strongly and as high as we possibly can just to say that we did," said Senators coach Paul MacLean on Friday. "I think that's important for our team. We were eighth last year so if we were to finish seventh or sixth that's better and that's an improvement and that's what we'd like to see."
Ottawa (24-16-6) will host the Philadelphia Flyers (22-22-3) on Saturday and will play the Boston Bruins (28-13-5) on Sunday to wrap up the season.
The Senators are expected to go with its full roster against the Flyers, but may consider giving some of its veterans the night off against Boston.
Craig Anderson will get the start against Philadelphia and MacLean admitted they will consider giving Robin Lehner the start on Sunday.
In addition to giving Lehner the start, he hasn't played since April 11, the Senators have a number of players they'd like to get in the lineup including forwards Peter Regin and Jim O'Brien as well as defencemen Andre Benoit and Mike Lundin.
With so little time off before the start of the playoffs Sunday could be Ottawa's last opportunity to give some of its veterans a day off.
"We want to make sure that if anyone has anything that's nagging that could become a bigger issue we'd be wise not to play them," said MacLean.
It would come as no surprise if captain Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Sergei Gonchar and Erik Karlsson were all given Sunday off.
Karlsson, who made his return Thursday after missing 10 weeks with a partially torn Achilles, said he felt no ill effects following the game against Washington.
"I feel like every other day," said Karlsson. "Overall it feels really good.
"I'm playing (Saturday) for sure and Sunday's another day and I think we'll go from there."
Players admitted to feeling a certain sense of relief waking up and knowing a trip to the playoffs is now guaranteed.
"We battled hard all year and to finally make it feels really good," said Alfredsson. "We have two more games here to continue what we've been doing."
Prior to beating the Capitals, Ottawa had struggled in its last two games, losing both, and want nothing more than to head into the post-season feeling good about its game.
"We have to make sure we continue to play the right way and continue to get better and improve and keep working together and make sure everybody feels like we're on the right page," said Anderson. "When we play our best games we limit the amount of time in our own zone and spend a lot of time in the offensive zone."
The one area the Senators would love to see improvement is on its power play, which has gone 4-for-41 in its last ten games. Ottawa is 20th in the NHL with the man advantage. Karlsson's return could have a huge impact on its special teams as his speed and vision were most definitely missed.
"He controls the game, he has that power," said Marc Methot, Karlsson's defensive partner. "He's that great of a hockey player and having him on the power play has been a nice change. Being a very defensive minded team as of late we have that weapon on our squad now."
Notes: Paul MacLean said Jason Spezza has been skating, but he's "not even close" to joining the team. That being said the fact Spezza is on the ice is progress. Milan Michalek, Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips were all given a maintenance day.
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