The Ottawa Senators have a brutal schedule up until Christmas. During that span, the Senators play the pesky Capitals, the Canucks, each Eastern Conference division leader, the Sabres twice and the Devils.
Although there is a very important home stretch of four games in there, (Bruins, Penguins, Sabres and Panthers) these are all very tough tasks for the young Senators. If they come out of this stretch hovering around .500, then have a real shot at the playoffs and are not just a team that got off to a good start.
This stretch will help prove whether the 2011 Sens resemble either the Buffalo Bills of 2011 or the New York Jets. The former started out hot, just to fade as many predicted, whereas the latter remained consistently "good enough."
So what do we expect to happen?
Here is my breakdown of what will happen in these nine games before Christmas.
December 7th: Washington @ Ottawa
Outcome: Washington rides the power play to a victory. WASH 3 OTT 1
December 8th: Ottawa @ New Jersey
Outcome: Tough late loss for the Sens on a tough back-to-back. NJD 3 OTT 2 (OT)
December 10th: Canucks @ Ottawa
Outcome: Ryan Kesler and Alexander Edler strike fire in the first, leading to an easy win. VAN 5 OTT 2
December 13th: Ottawa @ Buffalo
Outcome: Sens end losing skid in a hard-fought, close matchup. OTT 3 BUF 2
December 14th: Boston @ Ottawa
Outcome: Sens look slow after tough win in Buffalo the night prior. BOS 4 OTT 0
December 16th: Pittsburgh @ Ottawa
Outcome: Ottawa wins a shootout late. OTT 6 PITT 5
December 20th: Buffalo @ Ottawa
Outcome: Sabres avenge loss from a week ago with a tight defensive effort. BUF 3 OTT 1
December 22nd: Florida @ Ottawa
Outcome: Sens show a strong offensive game, overwhelm young Panthers. OTT 4 FLA 2
December 23rd: Ottawa @ Carolina
Outcome: Sens get an early Christmas gift and win in ‘Lina. OTT 3 CAR 1
* I see this as a best-case scenario as giving them victories over both the Sabres and Pens would be tough to achieve.
At the end of the day, this stretch will definitely validate their early success this season or show it to be nothing but a mirage.