Ottawa Senator Mika Zibanejad as the Ottawa Senators and the Minnesota Wild practice on game day at Scotiabank Place, October 11, 2011, prior to Ottawa hosting their home opener.
Photograph by: Wayne Cuddington, Ottawa Citizen
Mika Zibanejad is getting into his comfort zone with the Ottawa Senators.Mika Zibanejad doesn’t mind playing physical hockey.
But when it comes to professional grinding, he can let winger Chris Neil do his thing, while the young Swedish centre and fellow rookie Mark Stone get open.
It’s an intriguing forward line, one that helped the Ottawa Senators handle the New York Rangers 3-2 in New York Friday.
Zibanejad produced five shots on goal and three hits. Neil had seven hits and several moments of antagonizing. As only he can.
Quietly, Zibanejad is developing into a steady player, with massive upside given his skating ability and shot (when he hits the net).
“I’m starting to feel how I should play the game, how my game should be,” Zibanejad said. “I’m finding a way to skate out there, and the right postion for me, so I’m starting to feel better.”
Neil’s role is to protect the two kids – both 19 – but also to give them room to create in the offensive zone
“He’s a hard working guy, and is creating a lot of room,” Zibanejad says of Neil.
“Stoner has good skill and can shoot and score. I enjoy playing with them.”
With five goals, Zibanejad is among the team leaders in the department. A prospect whose true potential is only beginning to show.
“It’s not like I’m not supposed to play physical but I can focus more on just playing my game,” Zibanejad said.
“If (Neil) is physical on the (defence), they’re just going to throw away pucks and we can catch them up and do something with it.
Guillaume Latendresse had a second full practice with the team, and is close to being cleared for a return to the lineup. The big winger was taking his neurological baseline test on Sunday afternoon, following practice.
Limited to just six games this year due to migraine and whiplash symptoms, Latendresse says he is feeling as good as he has in two years.
“It’s fun when you have energy and you feel good and you don’t have headaches,” said Latendresse, who takes medication to control his migraines.
“Two years ago I had my surgeries done (torn labrum and sports hernia) and last year I started feeling good maybe in April.”
If he’s cleared to play, his return will be up to head coach Paul MacLean.
“We’ll make that decision if he passes (the baseline test),” MacLean said.
Whether it takes a week or more, Latendresse wants to salvage something from the season, and his one-year Ottawa contract.
“I just want to be healthy,” he said.
“I want to feel good on the ice. It’s a transition year for me - it’s an important year in my career but what can I do?
“Injuries are part of it. “If we’ve found the problem, maybe now it’s behind me.”
Three of Daniel Alfredsson’s four boys were on the ice after practice. Hugo, Loui and Fenix took shots on fellow Swede Robin Lehner, with yet another Swede, Zibanejad, joining the fun.
Loui was savvy enough to note the ice is terribly snowy after the NHL players finish skating. One of the Alfredsson boys was heard regaling how he beat Lehner five-hole, but the big goaltender may or may not have provided the opening.
By the way, Hugo’s blonde locks are flowing such that even his dad might be envious.
“I’ve got the third-longest hair in the family,” Alfredsson joked, given the nod to wife, Bibi, and Hugo.
The Senators could have thrown a team birthday party on the weekend, with defenceman Chris Phillips (35), forward Colin Greening (27) and MacLean (55) all sharing March 9 as a birthday.
How did MacLean celebrate his day?
“Quietly,” MacLean said. “Actually, I was here (Scotiabank Place) at 5:30 with my wife and daughter,” to watch the CIS men’s basketball tournament.
“I was a former CIS athlete, as well as my wife (Sharon) was. So it’s an opportunity to support CIS sports and (Carleton head coach) Dave Smart has been involved with our development program.”
Sharon played volleyball with St Francis Xavier, MacLean said.
SHUFFLING THE DECK
Few teams juggle lines more than the Senators, partly because players are shifting on an off the injury list. The players seem to shrug off the shuffling.
“As far as it’s something that can be distracting, it’s also something where everyone knows it can be an opportunity to play in a spot where they can have success,” MacLean said.
GRYBA STEPS UP
The Senators had to do a different kind of shuffling when Phillips was penalized 19 minutes for a fight in the Rangers game.
Rookie Eric Gryba filled in by playing 23 minutes, while Marc Methot and Sergei Gonchar carried an even bigger load. Gryba rang a shot off the crossbar in the third period, oh so close to his first NHL goal.
“Maybe half an inch (from scoring)?” Gryba says. “And it doesn’t even count as a shot on net.”
Though the shot was reviewed, Gryba said he knew the shot was “right off the bar and out.”
MacLean did not name his starting goaltender for the Boston game, but it will be Lehner or Ben Bishop. Starter Craig Anderson is still not yet back on the ice since his ankle became sore during a rehab session last week.
MacLean said the staff is going to “err on the cautious side” with Anderson, who injured his ankle against the New York Rangers Feb. 21. Centre Jason Spezza, out since Feb. 1 back surgery, has begun training, but did not skate on Sunday.
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