The Ottawa Senators are off to a solid start, but their three consecutive victories since a season-opening loss have come against lesser competition.
Their next opponent, however, represents the best of the best.
The Senators look to extend their winning streak Monday night against the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who are seeking their fourth straight road victory.
No Eastern Conference team picked up more points than Ottawa (3-1-0) from March 5 until the end of the 2008-09 regular season, but the damage was already done for a last-place team that fired Craig Hartsburg 48 games into his first season as coach.
After a rough first month under replacement Cory Clouston, the Senators went 13-6-1 the rest of the way, laying the groundwork for what they hoped would be a better 2009-10 season. So far, Ottawa seems to have made some strides, recording one-goal wins over Toronto and the New York Islanders last week before beating Atlanta 4-2 on Saturday.
The Senators' top line contributed two goals, and Mike Fisher added a goal and an assist on former Penguin Alex Kovalev's first goal in Ottawa after four seasons with Montreal.
Fisher has two goals and two assists in four games after finishing with 32 points in 78 games of his disappointing 2008-09 season. His power-play goal Saturday was Ottawa's first this season.
"I'm feeling young," said the 29-year-old Fisher, who was teamed with 36-year-old linemates Kovalev and Daniel Alfredsson. "They create so much space, they both make great plays and they're strong on the puck. They made some great plays tonight - we could have had a few more."
One other Eastern team finished with 27 points after March 5, but for the Penguins (4-1-0), that was just a prelude to a deep playoff run that culminated with a Cup-clinching win in Detroit.
Pittsburgh is off to a hot start in defense of its title, highlighted by strong play away from Mellon Arena. The Penguins bounced back from their first loss with a 5-4 win at rival Philadelphia on Thursday, then used three power-play goals - two from Sidney Crosby - to beat Toronto 5-2 on Saturday.
Pittsburgh was 2 of 15 (13.3 percent) with the man advantage in its first four games.
"Right from the start our power play was executing and set the tone for our team," coach Dan Bylsma told the Penguins' official Web site. "... When you win the special teams (battle) - it was 3-0 for us tonight - that's a good recipe."
Pittsburgh could use a better effort on the power play in this game than it did last season versus Ottawa. The Penguins converted 2 of 21 (9.5 percent) chances with the man advantage against the Senators, losing three of four games.
Crosby's two power-play goals against the Maple Leafs pulled him even with Evgeni Malkin in that department, but Crosby has been kept under wraps by the Senators in his career. He has 10 points in 13 regular-season games versus Ottawa, including two goals.
Crosby has never scored a regular-season goal in five games at Scotiabank Place, though he has four there in five postseason appearances.
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is 2-2-0 in six regular-season starts at Ottawa, where he's been pulled twice.