Senators face Isles squad on the brink

The Ottawa Senators face the New York Islanders three times in February and twice this week, but Monday afternoon’s Presidents Day tilt should be the most meaningful.

Senators face Isles squad on the brink
Kyle Turris #7 of the Ottawa Senators scores during the shootout against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Senators defeated the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Ottawa Senators face the New York Islanders three times in February and twice this week, but Monday afternoon’s Presidents Day tilt should be the most meaningful.

It’s do-or-die time for the Islanders, who sit six points back of a playoff spot and are currently clinging to the faintest of hopes that this won’t be another lost season.

If they don’t come close to running the table in four games over the next seven days, general manager Garth Snow may decide to take the long view and start shipping players out of town before next Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Names like Evgeni Nabokov, PA Parenteau, Mark Eaton and Steve Staios have been floating around as potential rental players for playoff-bound squads.

For that reason, the Senators can expect to face a hungry group at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum at 1 p.m.

According to Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, however, having the Islanders’ backs to the wall could also work in Ottawa’s favour. Teams under pressure have been known to play tight.

“It’s a tough situation, where they still have hope and, if they get a really good stretch together, they could sneak in there,” he explained.

“For us, I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Alfredsson continued. “Sometimes the teams that are out of it are more dangerous, because they have nothing to lose, really, and they play looser and are tougher to play against.

“It’s nice that there’s a lot on the line (in) a lot of these games,” he added. “It brings the intensity up a bit (because of) what’s at stake as well.”

While the Islanders are just trying to stay alive, the Senators continue to re-establish themselves after staggering out of the all-star break. They strung together a couple of tidy wins over teams with fewer points than them last week (Florida and Tampa Bay), and would like to complete the hat trick today.

They’ll need to be better than they were in a 2-1 home loss to the Islanders on Feb. 3, however.

Winger Nick Foligno suggested the Islanders did a good job of frustrating his team last time out.

“I think they were just really good at gapping up in the neutral zone — we didn’t really generate anything because they kind of play four guys back, and it was hard to generate any speed and offence…we had to figure out a different way,” he said.

Senators coach Paul MacLean agreed.

“I thought our execution with the puck wasn’t as good as it could have been and, especially through the neutral zone, I thought they did a real good job in the neutral zone of slowing us down and making us execute,” he said. “And we didn’t do a good enough job of that.”

A change in attitude since then should make the Senators more competitive this time out.

“I think we’ve rediscovered our identity of what we had before the all-star break: The hard-working, 60-65 minute team that can play 200 feet,” MacLean said. “We’ve learned that that’s what we are, and if we’re going to have success, that’s the way we have to play. And we need everybody doing it on a consistent basis.”

It comes as no surprise that MacLean won’t tinker with his lineup.

Craig Anderson will start in goal, while former Islander Zenon Konopka will spend another game in the press box as a healthy scratch.

Considering how slowly the Senators came out of the all-star break, there’s reason to be concerned about rust after a four-day gap between games.

MacLean insisted he was cognizant of the situation, however.

“I think we’ve handled (the break) the way we’ve wanted to, and obviously the start of the game will tell.”

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