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Allen Panzeri, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Sunday, January 07, 2007


Capitals' attendance falls, despite star like Ovechkin

In this nation's capital, Eugene Melnyk can't complain. His Ottawa Senators are keeping him in jet fuel.

Including yesterday's game against the Flyers, the Senators have filled Scotiabank Place for 13 of 20 games and are averaging 19,159.8 fans. That's above the capacity of 19,153, so you could probably even argue that every game has technically been a sellout.

In the other nation's capital, however, it's grim, even with an attraction like Alexander Ovechkin.

Washington is one of the NHL bigger troublespots. The Capitals are averaging just 13,103 fans at the Verizon Centre. That's the lowest in seven years. The most recent high was 17,341 in 2001-2002.

If you didn't know better, you'd call it continuing bad karma from the 2004-2005 lockout.

While the NHL couldn't have wished for two more exciting and talented players than Ovechkin and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, one is playing before empty seats while the other may be headed for the plains of Kansas.

FLYERS' HOPES SINKING FAST

It's sad, but the once-fearsome Philadelphia Flyers, who play at Scotiabank Place this afternoon, could soon be mathematically eliminated from the playoff race. They have almost no room for error.

After yesterday's game against Boston, a 4-3 loss, they had a record of 11-26-4 for 26 points.

Given that it took 92 points to win a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference last year, the Flyers need 68 points in their final 41 games to have a chance (not accounting for the magic of three-point games). The Flyers haven't missed the playoffs since 1994. ... Along with everything else, the Flyers are frustrated with 23-year-old defenceman Joni Pitkanen. They can't decide if he really has an upside or if he's already as good as he's going to get. It won't be surprising to see him dealt to one of the many teams seeking a defenceman (even if his minus-20 rating is frightening).

CLOCK STARTS TICKING ON PHILLIPS

When the clock hit 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, it meant NHL teams could begin negotiating contract extensions with their players on one-year deals. That meant, if they wanted, the Senators could begin talking to Chris Phillips, 28, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

With big, mobile defencemen at a premium these days, Phillips, who's making $2.204 million U.S. this year, could hit the jackpot this summer.

Are the Senators willing to pay him between $3 million and $3.5 million U.S.? That's probably what it's going to take. Otherwise, come July 1, you can bet the Oilers, for one, will offer him a fortune. They've long wanted to bring Phillips home to Alberta.

The Senators could also try to add another year on a deal for unrestricted free agents Mike Comrie and Dean McAmmond, though the Senators will likely wait for a good long while before making those decisions.

A handful of other Senators will be restricted free agents this summer, including Anton Volchenkov, Tom Preissing, Chris Kelly, Christoph Schubert, and Ray Emery.

NOW, IF HE WERE DOMINIK HASEK

On Tuesday, just four days after he had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, Swedish defenceman Christian Backman was back on the ice. As impressive as that was, Blues coach Andy Murray couldn't resist having some fun. "I told him if he was a Finn, he would probably be playing (Tuesday)," Murray said. "If he was a Canadian, he wouldn't have missed any (time)." You can just imagine the firestorm if Don Cherry said that. ... You have to look past the 5-1 result to realize how well the Minnesota Wild played in their win this week over the Atlanta Thrashers. Consider this: Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk entered the game with a combined 45 goals and 365 shots. They left it with 45 goals and 365 shots. "We gave them no hope," said goalie Manny Fernandez.

LOBSTERS FOR EVERYONE

The Lightning will probably hold part of their training camp in Brad Richards' hometown of Charlottetown, P.E.I., instead of Brandon, Florida, (where their training facility is) next year. There would be a couple of advantages: It would encourage team bonding (the lack of which coach John Tortorella believes has hurt the team) and get the players away from the brutally hot late summer weather in Florida. Charlottetown officials have pitched the idea to the team and it's all but official. The team just has to make sure the trip is "cost neutral." ... He's probably exaggerating a bit, since it's difficult to believe that he wouldn't pay attention to anything, but Wild coach Jacques Lemarie says he barely has an idea of what's happening in the Eastern Conference: "My bag is full on this side. I don't have time. You look at the standings once in a while. But if you asked me who's last and who's in the middle, I don't know."

THERE'S NO CURE FOR LOVE

One of the reasons Petr Nedved left Edmonton after the 2003-2004 season was that Phoenix gave him $3 million U.S. after the lockout. Another reason was that he was marrying Veronika Varekova, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover girl and model. Phoenix was better for her to find work in Los Angeles. That didn't work, though, so Nedved asked for a trade back east and landed in Philly. The couple is no longer together, disappointing sportswriters in Edmonton. ... The next one off the island in Phoenix figures to be defenceman Dennis Seidenberg. ... The Lightning have about $1.7 million U.S. to play with. General manager Jay Feaster is looking for a puck-moving defenceman -- who isn't? -- but says nothing is imminent. Also, stop the rumours: neither Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, or Dan Boyle will be traded.

DIDN'T YOU USE TO BE?

Hockey fans have long memories in Edmonton. Though it's been 14 years since he played for the Oilers, Martin Gelinas, now a member of the Florida Panthers, was recognized by fans when he walked into a Tim Hortons in Edmonton this week. "It's always special," Gelinas said. "It's just one of those cities. You play here and you have success as a team and they'll remember that team and your success." Gelinas played the first five years of his career with the Oilers and won a Stanley Cup with them in 1990. He hasn't been able to win again since, despite reaching the final three times: with Vancouver in 1994, Carolina in 2002 and Calgary in 2004. ... It looks as if Dallas' Matthew Barnaby is getting to his best-before date. Heading into last night's game against Calgary, he had been a healthy scratch in four of the past five games. He has had just one goal and six assists in 37 games.

FINALLY FIGURES IT OUT

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