Injuries are nothing new to the Ottawa Senators, though they’re hoping the latest one doesn’t cost them their hottest player for a game.
Sergei Gonchar is a game-time decision when the Senators continue their five-game homestand Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
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The veteran defenseman set a franchise record with an assist for the ninth consecutive game, helping on Kaspars Daugavins’ second-period goal in Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Boston. While Gonchar left late with an undisclosed injury and did not participate in Friday’s practice, coach Paul MacLean seemed optimistic the 38-year-old would be able to anchor his team’s blue line.
“He had improvement so we’re positive for tomorrow,” MacLean said of Gonchar, who has team highs of 19 assists and 21 points. “It looks like he’s going to be able to go as well as (defenseman Marc) Methot. They’re both important players and we need them to play if they can.”
Methot missed Thursday’s contest with a lower-body injury. Ottawa (16-9-6) has dealt with long-term injuries to top center Jason Spezza, Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson and defenseman Jared Cowen and also has lost No. 1 goaltender Craig Anderson and forward Milan Michalek for extended periods of time.
Robin Lehner, who made 27 saves Thursday, will start again as the Senators try to bounce back from just their second regulation loss at home (10-2-3). Ben Bishop gave up five goals in a 6-4 loss at Tampa Bay on Jan. 25 – the most allowed by Ottawa this season – when Ryan Malone rallied the Lightning with a pair of third-period goals.
“They’re a dangerous, dangerous team and if you allow them to have possession of the puck and play in your zone, they’re going to give you a lot of headaches with (Steven) Stamkos and (Martin) St. Louis,” MacLean noted.
Stamkos and St. Louis, though, have only one goal between them in the four games since center Vincent Lecavalier was put on the injured list with a lower-body injury, with Stamkos scoring into an empty net in Monday’s 4-2 win over Philadelphia.
The Lightning (13-16-1) opened a three-game road swing through Canada with a 4-2 loss to Toronto on Wednesday, yielding three goals in a 6:30 span of the second period that created an insurmountable four-goal deficit.
“It took us too much time to get our legs,” coach Guy Boucher said. “We’re a hard-working fast team and it didn’t look like that the first half.
“We looked like we were waiting to see what was going to happen out there,” he added. “I don’t know if it was because the guys froze or it was a road game — I can’t tell you. But it wasn’t a good game to start.”
And getting that first goal has been critical to Tampa Bay’s limited success on the road. The Lightning are 4-2-0 when they take a 1-0 lead in an opponent’s arena and 1-7-0 when they concede the first goal. Additionally, they have dropped seven of eight at Ottawa and failed to score more than two goals in any of their last nine contests in the Canadian capital.
With 891 points, St. Louis is one shy of moving into a tie with Peter Bondra for 100th on the all-time NHL list. St. Louis, who has notched an assist in three straight games, had two in the January win over Ottawa and 13 goals and 37 points in 45 lifetime games versus the Senators.