Devils-Senators Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 20, 2012
Recent struggles have hampered the Ottawa Senators' quest for their first Northeast Division title in six years. A visit from the slumping New Jersey Devils may help them get back on the winning track. The Senators try to beat the Devils at home for a fifth consecutive time Tuesday night. Ottawa (37-26-10) is three points behind Boston for the Northeast lead with nine games remaining - one fewer than the Bruins. The Senators haven't helped their cause while dropping five of eight (3-3-2) including Saturday's 3-1 home defeat to Toronto, a team all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. While winning a division title for the first time since 2005-06 could bring the second seed in the Eastern Conference, Ottawa is also trying to avoid entirely missing a second consecutive postseason. The Senators are currently seventh in the East, three points behind sixth-place New Jersey (41-27-5) but also only six in front of Buffalo in ninth. "Every game we play, we have a chance - if we win - to gain on somebody or put someone farther behind us, which is everyone's goal at this time of the year," coach Paul MacLean told the Senators' official website. "We want to play 82 games and then we'll see where we are. Every game is important because you have the chance to advance, or advance on somebody. "They're all important for that (reason)." Ottawa will now try to gain ground on New Jersey, which it will also visit April 7 in the regular season finale for both teams. The Senators have outscored the Devils 12-5 while taking the last four meetings between the clubs in Ottawa. That includes a 3-2 overtime victory Jan. 2, when Ottawa erased a two-goal, third-period deficit before Daniel Alfredsson scored with 59.4 seconds left in the extra session. Alfredsson is now looking to snap a season-high 10-game goal drought, during which he's managed three assists. He has two goals and one assist in two meetings with the Devils this season. Defenseman Erik Karlsson has also played well against New Jersey, with seven points in his last six games versus the Devils including two assists Jan. 2. Karlsson has 11 goals and 13 assists over his last 16 games, giving him 19 and 52, respectively, on the season to make him the favorite to become the first Senators player to win the Norris Trophy. Colin Greening, meanwhile is giving Ottawa some surprising offensive punch with one goal in each of the last three games - the longest such streak in his two NHL seasons. The Devils have dropped three of four including Monday's 4-2 defeat to the conference-leading New York Rangers, and now must beware Ottawa. "There is no easy game for us," left wing Patrick Elias said. "They're right behind us and they're waiting for us. We've got to be ready." Elias scored against the Rangers, one of his six tallies along with five assists in 11 games this month. The left wing has six goals and 12 assist in his last 15 meetings with the Senators overall, but only two goals and one assist in his last six visits to Ottawa. Ilya Kovalchuk has 12 goals and eight assists in 17 career games at Scotiabank Place, but no goals and two assists in three games there since joining New Jersey. Kovalchuk has no goals over his last four contests overall, and still needs one to match his 31 from 2010-11 - his first full season with the Devils.
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