OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators hope to make the most of home-ice advantage this season after giving up too many valuable points at Canadian Tire Centre in 2013-14.
After a successful season-opening road trip (2-1-0), the Senators play their home opener Thursday night as they host the Colorado Avalanche in the first of a four-game homestand.
Players and coaches talked Wednesday of the normal excitement to play the home opener, but more important is setting the right tone for the season.
"It's a brand new season and we have to start things differently," said head coach Paul MacLean. "I think this year coming home we've gained some momentum from our games on the road and we need to bring that to the rink (Thursday) night and start with one game. We've got to make sure we're ready to play and play hard."
The Senators finished with an 18-17-6 record on home ice last season, compared to 19-14-8 on the road.
It marked just the second time since 1997-98, minus the shortened lockout season, that they failed to win 20 games on home ice.
The Senators finished last season five points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and players can't help but wonder how a few more wins at home might have altered their season.
"We've got a good crowd behind us here and we need to find a way to use that energy and find ways to win games," said forward Clarke MacArthur. "We had some issues in the second period last year that kind of hurt us and this year it's more about keeping our foot on the gas pedal I think. You want to play with the puck and have possession of the puck all game. It's a better way to go through any hockey game."
"It's the first of four home games we want to start on the right foot."
Part of the Senators' problems at home last year came from their defensive play as they gave up 133 goals at Canadian Tire Centre. Only Edmonton (134) gave up more goals at home.
The Senators have allowed just five goals on the road through three games this season and players believe they are making progress.
"We know what we need to address," said captain Erik Karlsson. "Obviously last year our defensive play wasn't the best, but I think it's much improved this year, even though we're only three games in. We made a few mistakes and there's a few things we need to clean up.
"It's a long season and we're going to have to change things as they go, but it's just one of those things that everybody has to communicate about and make sure everybody agrees about what we're doing out there."
Better defensive play has been the theme for the Senators since the first day of camp, and MacLean has shown little patience for those who have made mistakes.
Jared Cowen, who started the first two games as part of the top defensive pairing, was a healthy scratch in Ottawa's 1-0 victory over the Florida Panthers on Monday night. He also found himself on the bench for much of the third period of a 3-2 shootout win at Tampa Bay on Saturday after he was on the ice when the Lightning scored the tying goal.
The 23-year-old felt he played a decent first game against Nashville (a 3-2 loss), but said he could have been better against Tampa Bay. He was still caught off guard when he found out he wouldn't be playing Monday night.
"Yeah it surprised me," Cowen said. "Only two games, so yeah it did surprise me. It sucks, only the third game of the year. I just need to be better though."
With seven healthy defencemen, MacLean won't hesitate to make changes to his blue-line. Patrick Wiercioch, who sat out the first two games, took Cowen's place on Monday.
If Wednesday's practice is any indication, Cowen will likely find himself the odd-man out for Thursday's opener.
"Right now Jared needs to come to the rink every day and continue to work at his game," said MacLean. "He's still a young player in this game — just over 100 games — so there's still a lot to learn. There are still lots of good games left in Jared Cowen. There's like 900 games left in him.
"Sometimes it's hard to be that age and we don't want him to accept that you're being scratched from games. But we expect you're going to come in and work with us to become a better player because that's what it's all about."
Notes: MacLean did not name his starting goaltender for Thursday's game. ... Defenceman Marc Methot remains sidelined with a back injury and there is no timetable for his return. ... MacLean didn't confirm that Curtis Lazar would play Thursday, but the rookie centre is expected to dress for the home opener.