Ottawa Senator Jason Spezza looks towards teammate Milan Michalek after scoring a goal against the New Jersey Devils during first period NHL hockey action in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Pawel Dwulit
OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators lost more than just a game the last time they visited Pittsburgh.
An 8-2 blowout two days before Christmas cost Ottawa the services of its most important player, captain Daniel Alfredsson, and a measure of pride.
"I saw the first seven minutes of it, then I didn't watch any of the game," Alfredsson said Wednesday of the game in which he suffered a separated shoulder when run over by Penguins right-winger Craig Adams. "I just heard the horn go off more times than I would have liked."
Having recovered on both fronts - Alfredsson with his shoulder; the team with its confidence - it should be a different story Thursday night when the Senators visit Mellon Arena.
As much as that last game was forgettable, this one could be a little more memorable as Ottawa has the chance to equal a franchise record with its eighth straight victory.
"We're not looking for payback for that one game," Alfredsson said. "We're just looking to continue our thing."
And right now, the Senators' thing seems to be working. The last time they won this many games was when they set the franchise mark with an eight-game run between Oct. 13 and Nov. 6, 2007.
"We're a much better team. We've got more bodies and we've been playing as a team. We've had a good stretch," centre Mike Fisher said. "We've beat some good teams lately."
Over the past few weeks, the Senators have already settled a couple of scores. Before their seven-game stretch, they'd lost 11 games in a row to Boston goaltender Tim Thomas and have since beaten Thomas and the Bruins twice.
Ottawa had lost nine straight games to the New Jersey Devils before chasing netminder Martin Brodeur after two periods Tuesday night en route to a 3-0 victory.
Unlike a few weeks ago the Senators are healthy, they're getting solid goaltending, first from Mike Brodeur and - for the last five games - Brian Elliott.
Also, formerly slumping players such as Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek are finally scoring again. Even the oft-maligned Alex Kovalev has at least a point in seven straight games.
"When you're winning, you're playing with a lot of confidence," said Spezza, who scored Tuesday for the second straight contest since returning from a 20-game absence with a knee injury. "The room is upbeat right now and guys are having a good time.
"It's hand-in-hand: when you're winning, you're having fun and when you're having fun, you're winning. It's a good feeling."
The feeling around the team's current run is so good that comparisons are being drawn to the 2006-'07 edition of the Senators.
That season Ottawa, faced with extended absences - most notably that of Spezza and Fisher among others - caught fire in late December and January and carried that momentum all of the way through to the franchise's only appearance in the Stanley Cup final.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray, who served behind the bench as coach in 2006-07, said Wednesday it's a fair comparison.
"Absolutely. Back then, we were able to put a structure in place and allow everybody to play had a role and they fit in and we won some games," he said. "It looks like a good team (now), it looks like a good structure, they're playing with discipline and everybody's contributing. As an organization, that's what you like to see.
"If we continue to play this type of philosophy, this will be an exciting team down the stretch."
Murray and the players said much of the credit for getting the Senators where they are, fifth in the Eastern Conference heading into Wednesday's games, goes to current coach Cory Clouston.
Clouston disagrees, however.
"This has nothing to do with me," he said. "This is the guys going out there and playing hard.
"We believe in what we're doing and I think the players believe in what we're doing and we have from Day 1. We're seeing some benefits of that."