Scanlan: Senators skate, win and skate some more
They were 3-0 at the rookie tournament and now a perfect 2-0 in the NHL preseason.
Will the Ottawa Senators ever lose a game — or do the visiting Maple Leafs have them right where they want them for Thursday’s exhibition at the Canadian Tire Centre?
We jest, of course. If these games were meaningful, Senators head coach Paul MacLean wouldn’t have skated his camp roster groups into the ice on Wednesday, with a practice session, followed by a 40-minute scrimmage, and then more skating.
“They’re trying to grind us a bit,” said Senators captain Jason Spezza, fresh off his first game wearing the ‘C’ on his jersey.
“Next week things will be cut back, but at this point I don’t think they’re too worried with how we’re feeling, other than staying healthy,” Spezza said. “They want us to work. They want these to be hard days.”
He’s 30 now, a legitimate veteran, so Spezza could be forgiven for complaining about two-plus hours of hard skating on a day like Wednesday. He’s earned that right.
Instead, Spezza says he actually likes training camp, likes having the time to get into a rhythm — unlike last year’s one-week mini-camp and then a freaky 48-game season. Minus the usual prep time, Spezza threw his back out one week into the season.
“I’d like to see a little more time off, some days are kind of long, you’re doing a lot of skating,” Spezza said, “but it’s good for us because it gets us more prepared.”
For Senators management, training camp 2013 (not to be confused with that January 2013 abomination) presents the pleasant problem of having so many good young players wowing their bosses they offer a conundrum. General manager Bryan Murray was more or less grumbling under his breath that some of his team’s prospects are outplaying guys with the contracts.
What can a team do about that when it has 22 one-way contracts? In a perfect world, the NHL could just send its two-way players down to Binghamton, but some of Ottawa’s good 20-something forwards need to clear waivers if they’re demoted. That includes Mike Hoffman, Cory Conacher and Stephane Da Costa, three of the players vying for one top-six forward position.
“We have a couple of guys we’d like to be careful with and know as much about as we could possibly know,” Murray said as the Wednesday scrimmage wrapped up.
As noted here before, the Senators have hardly had a camp where the roster was so predictable. Goalies set, with Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner. Seven defencemen set, now that Jared Cowen is signed. When Cowen is ready to get in a game, look for Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch to be a pairing, behind Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot. Chris Phillips, Joe Corvo and Eric Gryba round out the group.
Among other things, Cowen and Wiercioch have to sort out who plays the right side, Murray noted.
“I think they’re top four defencemen in the league now,” he said. “The two of them are young, but they look like they’re in that category.”
Up front, Murray acknowledges only the wing position on the second line (Kyle Turris at centre) is up for grabs. The rest of the top five: Spezza, Bobby Ryan and Milan Michalek (all dressing versus the Leafs) and Clarke MacArthur.
While further cuts are expected next week, the Senators will keep their Binghamton players around town until the end of the month, when the AHL camp begins. The Senators also need 40 bodies to play a split squad game against the New York Islanders Sept. 29, with one game here and the other being played in Barrie, Ont.
Murray, by the way, doesn’t mind that his club is killing it in meaningless games.
“I like winning,” he says. “I think it’s a good habit to get into. But knowing your prospects and building a foundation for the season with lots of skating is more important.”
The brass have enjoyed watching Ryan settle in on the top line — he was impressive in Wednesday’s scrimmage and continues to score almost at will. MacArthur looks good and Karlsson was wheeling. Just seeing a healthy 65 and 19 on the ice together warms the hearts of organization types.
“This is a really important camp for us because we missed so many players last year (due to injuries),” Murray said. Important, as well, for the new guys like Ryan, MacArthur and Corvo, in his second time through.
One week in, Ryan said the game is “starting to slow down” for him in the visual sense, as he and other players adjust to pace and flow again.
PROUD TO BE BOOED
Don’t expect good old Toronto boy Spezza to be booed like his captain predecessor, Daniel Alfredsson, by invading Leaf fans.
“Maybe he provoked it a bit with the stick throw,” Spezza said, referring to Alfredsson’s mock toss in Toronto, a play on former Leafs captain Mats Sundin and his broken stick incident.
If he does get targeted by Maple Leaf fans?
“I wouldn’t be heartbroken if I did, that’s for sure,” Spezza said.
‘C’ A THRILL
It was only an exhibition game, but Spezza felt like a kid again pulling on a Senators jersey with a ‘C’ on the chest for the first time against the Winnipeg Jets.
“I’m proud of the fact I was named captain, it’s a big responsibility and it was cool to see the jersey with the ‘C’ and to play a game with it. It was pre-season, but it means something for sure,” he said.
PRAISE FOR PETERSSON
No, he isn’t likely to make the club, but forward Andre Petersson, 23, is turning heads with his speed and playmaking.
“He told me he was going to do this in camp this year and he’s doing it,” Murray said, proudly of a player who has fought his way back into the good graces of the organization.
“One point last year, we told him we didn’t care if he got a job in Sweden or someplace,” Murray said. “He’s come in and had a good camp.”
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