Senators hoping to have Methot and Gonchar back Saturday

Everything in life is relative and in the case of the injury-ravaged Ottawa Senators, injuries which turn out to be minor are now being regarded as positive news.

Everything in life is relative and in the case of the injury-ravaged Ottawa Senators, injuries which turn out to be minor are now being regarded as positive news.

Defenceman Marc Methot, who sprained his knee during Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the New York Islanders, is expected back in the Senators lineup Saturday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Fellow defenceman Sergei Gonchar, who missed the final eight minutes of Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins with an undisclosed ailment, could also be back. Gonchar didn’t skate Friday, but a decision on whether he plays Saturday is expected to be made following the pre-game warm-up.

“(Gonchar) had improvement today, so we’re positive for tomorrow,” said coach Paul MacLean. “It looks like he’s going to be able to go.”

It’s believed that Gonchar hurt himself while blocking a shot, but MacLean didn’t elaborate Friday on what the injury was or what might have caused it. Gonchar, who leads the Senators in scoring (two goals, 19 assists) has registered at least one assist in nine consecutive games, a franchise record for defencemen. He has scored a total of one goal and 13 assists during that span and has logged major minutes on both the power play and in penalty killing situations. Gonchar has averaged 24:28 per game.

Methot, meanwhile, has averaged 22:39 per game and has been the Senators most physical defenceman. He says he “felt a lot stronger on the ice” Friday. When he first hit into the boards by Brad Boyes of the Islanders, he believed the injury was more severe than it has turned out to be.

“I got twisted up and bounced off him and I twisted into the (boards) and my leg kind of snapped and that kind of scared me,” said Methot. “At the time, it didn’t feel great, but it didn’t get much worse overnight. The swelling kind of subsided and as it turned out, it wasn’t anything too major.”

Even though the Tampa Bay Lightning come to town merely clinging to hopes they can qualify for the playoffs – they were tied for 12th in the Eastern Conference before Friday’s games, five points out of a post-season spot – having veteran defencemen back is pivotal.

The Lightning possess Steve Stamkos, who leads the league with 21 goals. With 40 points, he ranks second in the NHL scoring race, behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. Martin St. Louis is fourth in the scoring race, with seven goals and 32 assists.

The Senators know full well how dangerous the Lightning can be offensively, losing 6-4 in Tampa back on Jan. 25.

“Tampa is such a tough team because they have such a skilled lineup,” said Senators winger Erik Condra. “You never know when they’re going to come out and put six or seven goals on the board so teams like that are scary when they’re playing with nothing to lose and they can win a bunch of games to get back in it.”

Lightning coach Guy Boucher, however, says his team needs to adopt a more defensive approach, considering their own slew of injuries, including to veteran forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone along with goaltender Anders Lindback.

“(The Senators) have got guys who are paying the price and are gritty,” said Boucher. “We know their main weapon is their goaltending, it has been outstanding – more than outstanding – and that’s obviously a worry to anyone coming in to play them. It’s one of those games that if we want to win, we’ve got to win it 2-1, 1-0, or 3-2, at best. We don’t want to open it up, that’s for sure.”

Robin Lehner, who is now 2-1-4 with a 1.92 goals against average and .944 save percentage since being recalled from Binghamton, will start for the Senators. Mathieu Garon, 3-8-0, with a 2.79 average and .910 save percentage, will be in the Lightning net.

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