RALEIGH, N.C. — The Ottawa Senators will be double-checking their alarm clocks and trying to forget their ugly history here Saturday.
Nobody is quite sure what to expect from the rare noon start against the Carolina Hurricanes, but the Senators certainly hope to put an end to their ugly 1-9-1 stretch in their past 11 games at the PNC Arena.
If those numbers don’t scare Senators fans, check this out: the Senators are also a miserable 1-8-1 in afternoon games this season.
“For whatever reason, some teams you match up better with, some arenas you feel better in and this has been a tough rink for us,” said captain Jason Spezza. “We’ve had a hard time here, so hopefully we can kind of shake that. It’s a big game for us, where we all are in the standings, for sure.”
In the ever-changing, competitive race for a wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Senators (22-19-10) have a narrow one-point edge on the Hurricanes (22-19-9).
There will be a couple of changes for the Senators.
Back-up goaltender Robin Lehner, who hasn’t played since shutting out the Minnesota Wild 2-0 on Jan. 14, will be in net. Defenceman Marc Methot, who was a controversial healthy scratch in Thursday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, will replace Patrick Wiercioch.
“It’s the first time I’ve played a 12 o’clock game, so that’s going to be interesting,” said Lehner. “Just go out and play, I think. I’ve been trying to stay sharp in practice and I’ve felt good, so hope for the best.”
If it’s any consolation for the Senators, the Hurricanes have no experience in noon games, either.
If the Hurricanes had their way, the rescheduled game — postponed from Friday because the Carolina schedule changed after Tuesday’s contest in Philadelphia was moved to Wednesday due to a snowstorm — would have been played Saturday night. However, they accommodated the Senators, who need to return home Saturday night for a major charity fundraiser in Gatineau.
The Senators have picked up at least one point in their past six road games (4-0-2), rallying from behind three times Thursday before eventually losing in the shootout.
Senators coach Paul MacLean says the turning point in Thursday’s game was when he put an old line back together, using the trio of Colin Greening, Zack Smith and Chris Neil. Neil tied the game 3-3, the 100th goal of his career.
“I got lots of texts and emails, it’s exciting,” Neil said of the reaction. “I’ve got lots of close friends and family that watch every night and to see me get something like that, they’re pretty proud. My thumbs are sore from texting back. To be able to finally get to 100, you think you’re doing something right, helping out here and there and chipping in, and that’s part of my game.”
With that line back together, MacLean has also re-shuffled all but the Clarke MacArthur-Kyle Turris-Bobby Ryan line. Jason Spezza will at least begin Saturday’s game with Milan Michalek and Mika Zibanejad on his wings, while Stephane Da Costa will centre Erik Condra and Cory Conacher.
MacLean, who is well aware of the Senators’ terrible afternoon record, joked that the noon start would be a breath of fresh air.
“Actually, I was told that we have never lost (a noon start), so now I’m really excited and looking forward to the game,” he said. “I just think it’s incumbent on the players to get themselves ready to play, no matter when the game is.”
Defencemen Erik Karlsson and Cody Ceci didn’t skate Friday, but both are expected to play Saturday.
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