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Schedule contains 14 home games by end of January
Allen Panzeri, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, December 18, 2006


Beginning tomorrow, when they play host to the Boston Bruins, the Ottawa Senators get a chance to catch their breath.

If the recent six-week stretch in the NHL schedule was against them, the next six weeks will be in their favour.

Through the end of January, 14 of the Senators' next 19 games are at Scotiabank Place.

Compare that to the past six weeks, when 16 of 23 games were on the road. In that time, there were three four-game road trips, the last of which ended with a 3-1 victory in Buffalo on Saturday night.

That win was only the second in the past six contests for the Senators, but it did come against the Eastern Conference-leading Sabres and it did end a tough stretch on the road.

Now, they have to build on it.

While it's tempting to look at the midway point of the schedule -- the Jan. 1 home game against the Atlanta Thrashers will be game No. 41 -- and set a point total to aim for, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson says the team shouldn't even be looking past tomorrow's game against the Bruins.

"I would like for us not to look too far ahead," he said.

"Obviously it's a big chance for us to make up some ground, but, at the same time, we can't worry too much. We've got to get ready for one game at a time. I think that's crucial now, when we have so many games at home. I think it gives us the chance to hit the gym a little bit more and set ourselves up good for the second half and this stretch of the season."

Getting some scoring balance would help, too. Injuries have hurt, but the offence hasn't been spread as much as coach Bryan Murray would like.

Of the nine goals by the Senators in their past five games (starting with a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers), five have been scored by Jason Spezza and one by Dany Heatley.

Christoph Schubert, Chris Neil and Mike Fisher have scored the others.

You don't have to be Don Cherry to figure out that an opposing coach's best bet is to shadow Heatley and Spezza.

Without Alfredsson and Peter Schaefer to create scoring threats on other lines, the Senators were a one-dimensional team. This is not to suggest that injuries have been the team's sole problem. Murray has a few other things to sort out if this team is going to going anywhere.

Still, he's hoping the Senators will rely less on Heatley and Spezza during this stretch at home.

"It seems, the last little while anyway, if we don't get goals from them and on our special teams, whether it be the power play or penalty killing, we have a tough time winning," Murray said. "You get (to rely) on people. We need other people to balance it out a little bit, but we've been on the road an awful lot, and I think, when we go home now, you'll see a couple of other lines perform better, better offensively."

Spezza says he appreciates the extra freedom he gets when Alfredsson is in action.

"When you put him back in the lineup, you take a little bit of the pressure off me and (Heatley) from the other team's defence and the checking line," Spezza said. "He helps the power play out a lot, and, the deeper you can be offensively, the more room it's going to give us. It kind of gives us a chance to catch them with the wrong line out once in a while.

"When (Alfredsson's) not there, they pay a little more attention to us, but when he's there, they can't because their line (with Antoine Vermette and Patrick Eaves) will make them pay.

"Depth is the key in this league now, with all of this parity. I think we have it, but it's just a matter of keeping everyone healthy."

Redden Close to Returning

The question this week will be when defenceman Wade Redden returns to the Senators' lineup. He has missed eight games since injuring his chest during the Nov. 30 game against the Florida Panthers. He could be back tomorrow. If not, then Thursday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning is likely.

Fourth-Line Blues

In Saturday's game against the Sabres, Senators fourth-liners Denis Hamel, Brian McGrattan and Dean McAmmond didn't touch the ice. Murray obviously didn't want to give the Sabres an opening, not with the Senators desperately needing a win.

Still, it's difficult today to play game after game with just three lines.

Even if it plays only the odd shift, the fourth line can give the others a brief rest.

McGrattan probably shouldn't have been dressed anyway on Saturday. His right hand is still sore from a fight he had against the Washington Capitals' John Erskine six games ago, and it would have been unwise to put him on the ice, since Sabres coach Lindy Ruff would have likely countered immediately with his own tough guy, Andrew Peters. McGrattan wouldn't have had a chance.

He'll likely get a chance to rest his hand when Redden returns since Christoph Schubert will get bumped from defence to the fourth line.

Whether that gives Murray a fourth line he'll have confidence in remains to be seen.

The Senators This Week

FULL STORY
 
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