OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators are proving to be a tough team to beat on home ice.
But with five straight games and six of the next seven on the road, beginning Saturday night at Boston, they're keen to make sure success follows them in their travels.
"This last little string at home has been pretty good, but we've got to do it on the road as well," said Senators defenceman Chris Phillips on Friday, the morning after Ottawa recorded its fifth straight victory at Scotiabank Place with a 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"It starts tomorrow night, a long trip, and you want to start it off right and just continue what we're doing," Phillips said. "We're playing a pretty solid game right now just with the basics - working hard, shooting the puck more and just getting chances and lately they've been going in for us."
One thing that is sure to follow is the spotlight. It'll be waiting for the Senators in San Jose on Tuesday when they face former teammate Dany Heatley for the first time since his off-season trade request was granted.
"There's obviously going to be lots of hype about it and talk and media attention and when there is that much talking about it and everything surrounding the game, you want to come out on top for sure," Phillips said. "And I guess he would want to (win) just as badly as we would, so it goes both ways."
At home, the Senators have improved to an impressive 10-3-3, using a homestand that's seen them play 10 of their past 12 in friendly confines to vault into a share of the Northeast Division lead with the Bruins.
On the road they're just 3-4-0, but they expect to get a boost with the return of a couple of key players at some point during the trip.
Defenceman Anton Volchenkov, who's missed four weeks with a dislocated elbow, practised Friday and there's a chance he may suit up Saturday, although Tuesday against San Jose is more likely.
Centre Mike Fisher may also play as early as Saturday after coach Cory Clouston said Fisher was feeling much better after resting the upper-body injury that's forced him to miss the past two games.
Meanwhile on Friday, blue-liner Brian Lee was demoted to Binghamton of the American Hockey League and Swedish rookie Erik Karlsson was recalled after notching 11 points in 12 games in the minors.
That's significant because the 19-year-old's next appearance will be his 10th NHL game of the season, meaning the first year of his contract kicks in.
Karlsson, the team's top pick in the 2008 draft, began the season in Ottawa but failed to make a mark. The Senators have been impressed with his physical progress.
"He's played well. He's gone down there, he's played big roles, a lot more minutes than he was playing up here," Clouston said. "He's really tried to balance his game out and hopefully he's able to bring that up here."
Following Saturday's game against the Bruins, the Senators travel to San Jose, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Anaheim before playing host to Montreal on Dec. 8. They're off to Philadelphia two days later.
"This is a big part of our season here. These are not easy teams we're playing and we're not too familiar with them, so if we can come out of this above .500 on the trip, we'll be setting ourselves up pretty good," centre Jason Spezza said.
Spezza's load was lightened Thursday against the Blue Jackets when he notched his first goal in 10 games. It was just his second goal of the season.
"After I scored, I had a little more jump in my step," Spezza said. "Sometimes it's nice to get a goal and get rolling again."
The Senators hope the roll continues first against Boston, then against San Jose. That's a game Ottawa fans have had circled on their calendars since Heatley demanded a trade out of the nation's capital.
After rejecting a deal that would have seen him dealt to the Oilers, Heatley had to face the music Friday when the Sharks visited Edmonton.
On Tuesday, he'll get a chance to renew acquaintances with his former teammates for the first time.
"Because it's in San Jose, it probably won't be as big of a deal to us as it would have been if it was here," said Spezza, who was probably Heatley's closest friend on the Senators. "(But) you always want to beat your buddies, too, because it gives you bragging rights, and this will be no different."
"I'm sure there's going to be some guys that are going to go extra hard on him, just to prove that we are the better team," added Nick Foligno, who scored the winner Thursday against Columbus. "We're all good friends with him, so it'll be fun kind of game to play against him and hopefully we come out with two points."