Mired in their longest losing streak of the season, the Ottawa Senators hope calling up a pair of talented minor leaguers will give the team a much-needed lift.
Corey Locke will make his season debut and Robin Lehner his first career start in net as the struggling Senators look to avoid a seventh consecutive loss when they visit the New York Islanders on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.
Players feeling the heat
Chris Neil didn't wait for Ottawa Senators head coach Cory Clouston or general manager Bryan Murray to be fired for the team's struggles. He sent a message to Chris Campoli and his other teammates with his fists.
Neil and Campoli dropped the gloves about 15 minutes into Wednesday's practice at Boston University, just hours after the hometown Bruins had disposed of the Senators 6-0.
Twice this month Ottawa's tough guy has spouted off to reporters about what he perceives as a lack of effort by his teammates. Having the players on the same page, creating energy, finishing checks and shooting the puck have been some of Neil's topics of discussion.
Campoli, by the way, was a team-worst minus-4 against the Bruins.
"I'm trying to get the battle level up, intensity, and that's part of it," Neil told the assembled media at Senators practice. "I think we need more of that, and whatever happens, happens."
Six consecutive losses have dropped Ottawa to 13th spot in the NHL's 15-team Eastern Conference with a 16-21-6 record, including a 9-12-2 mark on home ice.
Senators goalie coach Rick Wamsley expressed his frustration prior to the Neil-Campoli scrap, offering some colourful language while pleading with the players to shoot the puck.
Clouston, rumoured to be on the firing line for several weeks, doesn't have a problem with teammates fighting as long as their emotion is "channeled" in the proper direction.
"I'm not worried about myself," he said. "I'm more worried about [the players'] mental and emotional state, and getting them prepared for [Thursday]."
The once-lowly Islanders, who turfed head coach Scott Gordon on Nov. 15, have turned their game around under interim bench boss Jack Capuano and trail Ottawa by just five points with two games in hand.
The Senators have been outscored 24-7 during their swoon.
— Doug Harrison, CBC Sports
Ottawa (16-21-6) has been outscored 24-7 during its 0-4-2 slump. The Senators have not scored more than two goals in any of their last four contests and have been shut out twice during the skid, including a 6-0 loss at Boston on Tuesday.
Looking to avoid their first seven-game losing streak since Nov. 21-Dec. 4, 2007, the Senators hope Locke can provide a spark for one of the NHL's lowest-scoring teams (2.16 goals per game).
Locke, a centre who leads the American Hockey League with 55 points, will make his debut for his third NHL team. He failed to register a point in one game with Montreal in 2007-08, and three with the New York Rangers in 2009-10. Locke spent the 2008-09 season in the Minnesota organization but never appeared in a regular-season game for the Wild.
"We just need him to play hard, play smart and be creative," coach Cory Clouston told the Senators' official website. Lehner, who did not allow a goal on 10 shots in two games of relief duty with Ottawa in October, spells Brian Elliott, who was pulled after two periods of Tuesday's loss. The 19-year-old Lehner, a second-round pick in 2009, will be the youngest goalie to start a game in franchise history.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," he said. "When they told me (I was starting), I was just really happy. I'm looking forward to it. I'll try to go in there and do as well as I can."
That's all Clouston wants from his young netminder.
"We just need [Lehner] to go out there and play solid," Clouston said. "We also have to play well in front of him and be responsible defensively."
The Senators may be coming to the right place to avoid a fourth straight road loss. They have won five of six against New York, including 4-1 at home Nov. 4. However, the one defeat in that stretch came in their last visit to Long Island, 4-1 on April 3.
The Islanders (13-21-7) look to avoid a third straight defeat after falling 4-3 in a shootout at home to Vancouver on Tuesday.
In earning a point, New York did look much better than in Sunday's 5-0 loss at Chicago. John Tavares posted his team-leading 15th goal and Blake Comeau scored for the third time in four games.
"It's nice when we can consistently stay positive on the bench and battle back when we get down," defenceman Jack Hillen told the Islanders' official website.
Tavares's only goal in five career games against Ottawa came during the April 3 meeting.